J-term workshop on process control and automation

January-term often marks a time of rest for Miami University students. But this winter, CEC students participated in an inaugural program intended to prepare them for future internships.  

For three weeks in January, eight CEC students attended a workshop dedicated to exposing undergraduate students to hands-on work with process control and automation. The workshop is intended to prepare sophomore and junior students to join their internships with experience, in response to the demand from industry professionals for more students knowledgeable in the field. 

The program, titled Systems Automation Springboard to Internships (SASI), was jointly developed by the Paper Science and Engineering Foundation (PSEF), the Chemical, Paper and Biomedical Engineering department , and CPB professor Doug Coffin. Students attended the workshop at no cost, and were instead sponsored by a Foundation member company. Each student also has a summer internship lined up with their sponsor company. 

Coffin said this program is imperative for the long-term success of students.  A collage of photos of students working on process control and automation

“When we find a field that is emerging, such as this advanced process control and automation, and we know it’s an area that students don’t get education until they’re seniors… it’s too late by then to really push them in this direction,” Coffin said. “So a program like this can really steer students in the direction that’s useful for them and it can help them with their whole career development early in their careers.” 

Bailey Feeney, a sophomore chemical engineering major, said he was grateful for the chance to participate. 

 “It was quite a relief because I know it was going to be really hard to find internships right now, especially with Covid… so to get a call saying I had an internship, and not only did I have an internship, but I was able to participate in this workshop over the J-term, that was super awesome,” Feeney said. 

Despite Covid-19 still being a concern, the workshop went as well or better than it could have in an ordinary year.

“In sense, because of Covid, it made it possible that [educators from across the country] could deliver a lot of information and not be here,” Coffin said. 

To get the most out of the experience, students practiced social-distancing measures and attended the workshop in-person. Most of the labs were hands-on, while much of the teaching was remote. 

Gary Rudemiller, executive director of the PSEF, said he knows this program will be helpful to students in the future. 

“There’s such a need out there in industry for process control minds that any student who goes into this discipline will give themselves a serious leg up on getting a job [if they participate in the workshop],” Rudemiller said.  

Rudemiller and Coffin both said they anticipate this program taking place again next year and expanding to other areas of study in the future. 

Feeney will participate in his internship at the Jackson, Alabama mill of Packaging Corporation of America and says he feels prepared for his work there. 

“Having this background knowledge will help me grasp the concepts that I’ll be learning about and working on in the workplace,” Feeney said. “I’ll be able to grasp it a lot faster, I’ll be able to make more informed decisions, be able to do a little bit more than I would have been able to do if I hadn’t had this experience.” 

Feeney sums up his experience succinctly: 

“To summarize: super valuable.” 

By Maggie Peña, CEC Reporter 

To hear more about the program from the students here is a short video with SASI student testimonials.