How an experience with the Energy Efficiency Center prepared Mike Knapp for the world of manufacturing
Mike Knapp, a facilities operation engineer for Samsung Austin Semiconductors, came out of Oregon State with impressive academic and professional credentials. He earned a B.S. in chemical engineering in 2009, and went on to receive an M.S. in chemical engineering and M.B.A. both in 2013. He was also an operations manager for the Energy Efficiency Center, a student-run and faculty-supported program in the College of Engineering that performs assessments for rural and industrial clients throughout the Pacific Northwest. There, he gained first-hand manufacturing experience through energy assessments for breweries, large manufacturers, and food processing centers alike.
Knapp is now is Austin, Texas, where he’s responsible for processing and cleaning wastewater from semiconductor manufacturing processes. He also assists with other facilities such as ultra pure water for processes and HVAC systems.
We got in touch with Knapp to learn more about what skills prepared him for a career in manufacturing, and his advice to students wanting to enter the field.
You were very involved in the Energy Efficiency Center. Did any of the applied skills you learned through the program translate to your work at Samsung?
In my time at the Energy Efficiency Center I went from an energy analyst to a lead energy analyst and finally an operations manager. The ability to quickly assess energy consumption and determine if it is operating incorrectly is essential in this field. Also, being able to come up with energy reduction measures will be important for my job duties.
Can you recall a specific energy review that particularly helped you in your job?
A lot of the energy reviews that I was involved in helped prepare me for my job. Whether it was an air compressor, a heat exchanger, solar array, or insulating piping/tanks, the energy recommendations were rarely the same and required creative solutions that fit the customer’s desires and the operating parameters of the process.
You worked with a lot of manufacturing companies and learned very applied engineering skills. But you also learned many professional skills such as business writing. Could you talk more about those skills and why they are important for today’s engineer?
An engineer who has “soft” skills is an invaluable asset for companies. Presenting a solution in a way that non-engineering disciplines can understand and see the value in is a skill that helps merge engineering and business teams. Organizational behavior is another important “soft” skill in which engineers will need to demonstrate proficiency. Understanding your colleagues’ differences, whether cultural, emotional or mental, will help you to better work with different people, make you more well-rounded and respected, and allow you to become an effective manager and leader.
What are your thoughts on the state of manufacturing today, and what can interested students do to prepare themselves for the field?
Even though I’m new to the field, my impression is that companies are quickly realizing the importance of energy efficiency and energy management to reduce costs and resource consumption, which is also giving them a competitive advantage. Also, competition is fierce, and the ever-changing markets require companies to adapt or risk going out of business. For students looking to get into this field, being able to work in a fast-paced, high-stress environment is essential. Also, students need to be able to handle having their work rejected even if their engineering solution is sound. Sometimes the external environment requires a shift in focus that trickles down to a project that you have been tirelessly working on.
Now that you’ve made the leap from classroom to real world, do you have any other advice for students getting ready to graduate?
Look into certifications for the field you want to go into, or at least be aware of them. This can be a good conversational piece during interviews and shows that you are looking to further your knowledge base as a professional.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Start networking as soon as you can because you never know when an opportunity will present itself. You want to be ready when it does. Also, balancing your life with some extracurricular activities helps show your potential employers that you know when to shut it off and enjoy life.
–Abby P. Metzger
Note: The Energy Efficiency Center houses the Industrial Assessment Center and the Rural Energy Assessment programs and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.