In this thriving industry, hard hats don’t just come in men’s sizes. A perpetual need for skilled workers in the fuels and petrochemical industries long ago nixed the notion that these jobs are traditionally for men. But even today, as men and women work side by side to produce the energy and products that power our world, our nation’s “better half” might not fully realize these high-paying careers are awaiting them.
One way to spread the word? Share their stories. As part of an ongoing series, join us for a look at some of the women working in today’s fuels and petrochemical plants.
Meet Dollnila Slater. First one in her family to go college. NASCAR fan (still missing Jeff Gordon). One of three African American women in her graduating class. Game of Thrones fan (missing that too). Chemical engineer, heading up one of the business teams at Motiva’s Port Arthur refinery.
Every day on her watch, Port Arthur can turn up to 630,000 barrels of crude oil — into the gasoline we use every day, along with diesel for trucks, lubricating base oils (think motor oil and lubricants for just about everything with a moving part) , and jet fuel for — well, airplanes. (And that work goes on every night too. The refinery is in production around the clock.)
So her day starts with a look at what happened during the last shift — then she plans for the new shift and their work (they are regularly called on to change the mix of what they make — a little less diesel, a little more gasoline, and so on). When that’s done, and the current shift is well underway — she moves on to a little longer-term planning (like a “turnaround” which is preparing to work around a piece of equipment that will need to go off-line for repairs or routine maintenance). And the next day, she starts that all over again.
When she began her career (she started on the production side herself, as a process engineer) — her grandfather, who worked in the steel and shipping industries, told her, “Baby, you go show them what you can do.”
And she came in knowing that she faced a challenge: she had to show the guys (because it was mostly guys) that, without being one of the guys, she could do the job. And the guys learned, yes, yes, she could.
She also learned from the guys, starting with her high school calculus teacher (she was his best student) who told her not to hold back, to go and use her abilities. During high school, she landed an internship in her senior year at a refinery and found a chemical engineer there who was her first mentor in the profession.
These days, she’s the one doing the mentoring — women on her team, women starting out in engineering and women who don’t have advanced degrees. She does a little mentoring of a different sort outside of work too — spending time with her new grandson. And that’s a plus part of her job too — work is intense, busy and some serious responsibility on her shoulders — but work doesn’t take over, and so there is time for NASCAR, for GoT, for travel — and time for family.