Hurricane Evacuee Turned Shell Operator Counts Her Blessings
Oct 13, 2016
Shell Deer Park operator Christina Smith had to evacuate her home when Hurricane Rita hit. With a young daughter to care for, mounting medical bills and an unexpected job layoff, Smith went back to school for a process technology degree, landed a job at Shell and turned her life around.
Christina Smith never could have imagined that she’d spend her days – and most of her nights – working as an operator at Shell’s refinery and petrochemical plant in Deer Park, Texas. It’s a far cry from her former job at Subway, where she worked for 10 years starting at age 16, or her job at Wal-Mart.
Smith, an evacuee of Hurricane Rita that hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, said she’s just grateful that her job now has benefits and offers her children a shot at a better life.
“Knowing that I can provide my kids with quality healthcare, sign them up for dance and baseball, put good food on the table, etc. is such a blessing,” she said. “I don’t take any of that for granted.”
Unexpected job layoff leaves single mom scrambling
After evacuating from her hometown of Orange, Texas post-Hurricane Rita, Smith found a job at Lone Star Diving, Inc. in the Houston area – but then she was laid off, leaving her with no paycheck, no benefits and a young daughter to take care of all by herself.
Smith’s daughter had an arachnoid cyst in her brain when she was 6 months old. Doctors performed surgery only months before she was laid off. When she lost her health insurance, reality set in.
“I was terrified,” she said. “Not being able to provide for your child is devastating.”
Smith finds her niche
Her adopted family at Lone Star Diving, Inc. encouraged Smith to sign up for classes at College of the Mainland in the Houston area. Despite the situation, they believed in her and loaned Smith the money for her first classes.
She enrolled in the two-year Process Technology program (PTEC for short) after having zero interest in science and math as a kid. Initially, times were hard. She got by with part-time jobs, help from family and financial aid. But then Smith unexpectedly received two scholarships – one from Marathon Oil Co. and one from Shell – which helped her significantly.
Smith realized that she had found her niche with process technology, and she won the ‘Outstanding PTEC Graduate’ award at her graduation.
She went on to intern at Shell Deer Park’s refinery and petrochemical plant before receiving a full-time offer. She has now worked at the site for five years and loves what she does.
“I really enjoy being part of a team, I’m intrigued by the scientific nature of what I do, and I love the volunteer opportunities where I can share my story with other females who may not know the possibilities available to them,” she said.
At Shell, 37-year-old Smith works 12-hour shifts alternating between days and nights. When she’s not working or taking care of her kids (she now has a 1-year-old son as well), she paints, draws and writes. In fact, she’s the author of two children’s books: Skeeter Uses Manners and Skeeter Sneeter Doodlebop.
Operator serves as role model for other women
Earlier today, Christina spoke at the Shell-sponsored ‘Date with Destiny’ event at San Jacinto Community College. San Jacinto Community College, Shell Deer Park and other community college partners hosted this career forum, which is designed to create a platform for women to introduce, educate and increase awareness of oil & gas and petrochemical careers. Attendees included high school juniors and seniors, current college students and recent college graduates.
The event speakers and volunteers featured women who have worked or currently work in the industry, and they offered their insights on navigating a technical career. Each shared their experience, provided advice, discussed their own career pathways and helped inspire everyone who attended to consider a fulfilling and exciting career in a high-demand field. The event also featured college and career information, interview and resume workshops, panel discussions, financial aid, scholarships and open dialogue for participants to ask questions.
Pay it forward
Smith said the event gave her an opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ and help guide other women who are considering a petrochemical career. Smith shared her story with those in the audience and encouraged everyone to aim high, act with compassion and embrace the unexpected.
Despite the many obstacles she encountered, Smith says she’s proud of how she turned her life around.
“Life is a gift, and providing my kids with a better life than I ever could have imagined is a priceless one.”
Interested in a petrochemical career in the Gulf Coast region? Find out more at Petrochem Works!
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