engineers from shell puget sound refinery

“Why are you wearing red pajamas? What’s a molecule? Why are there so many different types of gas at the gas station? What’s that white steam coming from the refinery? Why do you wear a ‘beeper’ all the time?”

These are just a few of the questions that kids at the 2017 Boys & Girls Club of Skagit County’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) summer camp asked during a demonstration of how a mini refinery works. The camp serves roughly 40 local children from 1st-6th grade and aims to introduce them to the STEM fields.

Shell’s Puget Sound Refinery (PSR) sponsored the camp and helped fund the camp’s new location at Maiben House in Burlington, Wash. Maiben House was recently renovated by Leadership Skagit participants, the Burlington Rotary, Boys & Girls Club of Skagit County, the City of Burlington, local businesses and other volunteers from the community. 

Engineers from Shell Puget refinery

PSR’s sponsorship provides valuable scholarships

“Many of our kids come from low-income or underprivileged backgrounds and would never get this type of opportunity or be exposed to a diverse array of career options without the camp,” said Manny Smith, who serves as the Director of Operations for the Boys and Girls Club of Skagit County.

“Our partnership with PSR is invaluable, and it gives kids an inside look at what goes on at a refinery,” he said. “In addition, roughly 15 of our kids are here on a full scholarship – completely funded by PSR. That’s a huge impact on the lives of so many of our local youth. Experiences like this last forever, and the excitement on their faces says it all.”

Engineers from Shell Puget refinery

Kids’ curiosity inspires PSR engineers

PSR’s Process Engineer Michael Estrada and Rotating Equipment Engineer Robert Laigaie led the mini refinery demonstration.

Estrada remembers when he decided that he wanted to become an engineer in the oil and gas industry. He grew up in Colorado, and his dad worked as a semi-truck driver throughout his childhood.

“I think it hit me when I was 16 years old. After watching my dad all the time, I grew fascinated with the science behind how fuels were made and used across so many different capacities – I knew I wanted to play a role in the process.” 

Enginners from Shell Puget refinery

Estrada said he loved sharing the mini refinery presentation with the kids. He particularly enjoyed explaining the importance of teamwork and why safety is always top of mind.

“Many of these kids had never seen flame retardant clothing (FRCs), H2S monitors, safety glasses, gloves and steel toed boots, and I enjoyed walking them through why we wear all of it.”

Estrada hoped that he and Laigaie helped spark an interest in the refining industry and science overall. 

Engineers teaching students

Demonstration helps take mystery out of complex industry

Laigaie agreed with Estrada. “The energy from the kids was fantastic. I was surprised that they asked about every aspect of the mini refinery and wanted to know exactly how everything works.”

He said these types of demonstrations, “help take the mystery out of what we do. We can spark their interest in science in a very practical way and help them connect the dots. The most challenging aspect is translating complex refinery language into something kids can understand.”

Engineers teaching students

For Boys & Girls Club camp instructor Andrew Flores, he views the partnership with PSR as a gift that keeps on giving.

“This camp gives kids the chance to better themselves and learn something totally new,” he said. “Before today, they didn’t know anything about a refinery or the job options available to them.”

Engineers explaining students

Camp experiences help kids realize full potential

This summer marks the sixth year that Flores has worked as a Boys & Girls Club camp counselor. When asked why he keeps coming back, he said, “We serve kids who need us the most at the most vulnerable time in their lives. We teach respect, integrity and fun, and we hope they’ll embrace those attributes over the course of their entire lives.”

He paused before adding, “For many of these kids, their time with Boys & Girls Club is a life-changing experience – one that’s essential to our community’s health and sustainability. PSR plays a key role in giving local kids a chance to dream big and realize their full potential.”

Learn more:

Click here to read more about the Boys & Girls Club’s STEM summer camp.

Click here to watch a brief video about Maiben House in Burlington, Wash., where the Boys & Girls Club operates its summer camps. 

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