From the “oil and gas olympics” to earning a MBA: Discover how Valero’s Mariana Williamson learned to solve complex problems

Workforce |  3 min. read

In an industry that thrives on challenges, diverse problem-solving, collaboration and teamwork, hard hats must fit a changing workforce – men, women, millennials and seasoned veterans alike. All of them increasingly skilled at producing the incredible energy and products that power our world. But not every potential contributor – women, in particular – may fully realize the exciting (and high-paying) careers that await them.

One way to spread the word? Share their stories. As part of an ongoing series, AFPM takes a look at some of the exceptional women making a difference in today’s fuels and petrochemical industry.

As a child in Venezuela, Mariana Williamson’s world was surrounded by lush vegetation, warm climates and the whirring energy of oil refineries and petrochemical plants across the northern coast – industries that bolstered her home country’s economy and laid seeds for a bright future in the energy world. Attending the local “Oil and Gas Olympics” at age 12 maybe not have produced a medal, but it launched a career.

And today, Williamson’s role as Turnaround Superintendent for Valero’s Meraux Refinery near New Orleans reflects her competitive drive and deep passion for problem-solving in the refining industry. Her role requires leadership, sound planning and clear direction for how to get her units back into operation as quickly and as safely as possible.

Being a mechanical engineer helps build an understanding and appreciation for how things work. But it doesn’t teach someone how to lead, how to connect with people, or how to build a sense of pride and teamwork inside and outside the project scope.

As the proud daughter of a civil engineer, Williamson recognized those barriers early on, and decided to find a solution. She returned to school to earn a Master’s in Business Administration and Management. And she sought out mentors to help her work on relationships and people skills, in particular.

The result?  “’Turnaround’, in our business, is when we shut down a unit to fix something or clean something — and we have to work safely and efficiently to get that unit back up again as quickly as possible.

“So my engineering experience is a big help on the technical side — but getting the best out of my people — encouraging them to be creative in problem-solving and trouble-shooting — getting people with different backgrounds and skill sets working together — that’s where my MBA and my mentors have been invaluable.”

And today, she approaches people and multimillion-dollar projects with confidence, and provides valuable mentorship to women engineers joining Valero and the refining workforce.

Williamson wishes more people knew about how connected her industry is to the communities they serve. She and her ‘Team Valero’ colleagues stay highly involved and invested, from STEM events like the Invention Convention — to community safety net support to Special Olympics.  That connectedness shows up in the care she provides every day, ensuring her refinery operates safely and reliably — for employees, and for the community.

Today, Williamson wears another hat beyond just Turnaround Superintendent. She is also Mom to an inquisitive baby girl, just 6 months old.

“I want her to do what makes her happy, of course — but yes, I am hoping that being an engineer will be what will make her happy!

“We already have some ‘baby STEM’ toys for her, and she will hear all about math and sciences as she grows up — but I also want her to grow up knowing that a young woman can learn whatever speaks to her — and she can work wherever she chooses, including right here at Valero.  And I hope that the work our generation is doing today, will make those choices easier for my daughter and her generation.”

Williamson is realistic about the industry, and its reputation for being a difficult environment for women to succeed. But her own experience says otherwise.

For her daughter in the future, and for young women today, Williamson sees the fuels and petrochemical industry as rich in opportunities for career advancement and opportunity, with challenging work on the technical side of the business, and leadership opportunities to make the world a better place.

For herself, for her career, for her community, and for her growing family.


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