Shell Engineers Present Mini Refinery

Civil engineer Monick Estrada grew up in Anchorage, AK and pursued a career in the oil and gas industry since she wanted to work in a challenging field where she knew she could make a difference. She found her niche at Shell’s Puget Sound Refinery in Anacortes, WA, and she shared her passion for her job during a recent mini refinery demonstration for Western Washington University (WWU) students in Bellingham, WA.

“For every project I’m assigned, I have the opportunity to use my engineering skills to create something new while ensuring we not only meet but exceed environmental and safety requirement,” she said. “I’m also able to bring different ideas to light and know they will always be taken seriously – even if they come from a young engineer.”

Engineers bring refinery operations to life

‘What’s octane? Where does fuel go once it leaves the refinery? How many different types of crude exist?’ The roughly 25 undergraduate students taking an ‘Energy from the Earth’ course at WWU asked these questions and more during the demonstration led by two Shell engineers who explained how a refinery operates, and the challenges and opportunities associated with the business. In addition, they heard about the importance of safety and why Shell takes it so seriously.

Engineers Monick Estrada and Steve Williams also shared their career paths, why they decided to join Shell and what their day jobs look like. Monick is a civil engineer who has worked at Shell for 2.5 years. Steve Williams is a process engineer who has worked at Shell for nearly 28 years, with the past six at the Puget Sound Refinery.

Students learn about complexities of industry

“The highlight for me was learning about the refinery’s commitment to the environment. Every drop of water that’s comes down on the refinery is collected and treated on-site,” said Jade Shallcrass, a junior at WWU. “I also loved hearing that everything at the refinery has a purpose – nothing gets wasted. Overall, I was impressed by Shell’s approach to environmental stewardship.”

Pete Stelling and Michelle Judson co-teach the ‘Energy from the Earth’ class, which is offered jointly through the Institute for Energy Studies and the geology department.

Pete serves as an associate professor of geology at WWU, and his research interests include geothermal power. Michelle spent 33 years working as a geologist for BP all over the world before getting involved in teaching this course and running the Skagit STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Network. She loves leveraging the skills she learned over her career to motivate others to pursue education with a focus on the geosciences and STEM careers.

“In this class, students learn about the fundamentals of our current global energy sources from rocks (fossil fuels, geothermal and nuclear minerals), their physical properties, how they are used and the environmental impacts,” said Judson.

“I heard about Shell’s mini refinery demo through my network, and I knew the students would benefit from seeing it. I want to show them – not tell them – how all of this works, and Shell’s engineers did a phenomenal job of bringing refinery operations to life.”

Two Engineers Present to College Students

Engineer encourages STEM learning

Steve Williams regularly volunteers to share the mini refinery demo with various groups in the communities surrounding the refinery.

“I enjoy encouraging people to pursue STEM fields, and the students asked very smart questions today. It really gave me a glimpse into the issues that matter to college students,” said Williams.

He paused before adding, “The real world practical knowledge that we bring is not something they typically receive in the classroom environment. I hope I inspired a few of them to someday apply for a job at Shell!”

Pay it forward

Estrada agreed. “I like to shed light on what I do and why I love it so much. A lot of speakers influenced me in college, and I view opportunities like this as a way to pay it forward. There are many misconceptions about our industry, and these conversations with students allow us to share all of the safeguards we have in place to protect everyone inside and outside the gates. Safety is always our number one priority – no exception.”

Judson said the demo fit in perfectly with the objectives for the course.

“Pete and I want students to have the capacity to engage in meaningful fact-based conversations about their roles both as consumers and change agents as corporations (including Shell), nonprofits, governments and individuals work together to pursue cleaner energy sources for a growing global population that demands more energy than ever before.”


Learn more about WWU’s Institute for Energy Studies by clicking here.

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