Eric Plante, Class of May 2022
- College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
When I was in high school, I really loved chemistry. I understood it well, and I was good at it, but, being a taller person, the thought of hunching over a lab table every day, trying to look at the little meniscus in an Erlenmeyer flask, gave me the shivers. I may have been a little naïve thinking that’s all chemists do, but still, it made me reluctant. Then my mom was like, “Hey, do you know anything about engineering?” and when I researched it, I discovered Chemical Engineering.
The most meaningful activity for me at Illinois was actually pick-up basketball. I’m not a very coordinated or self-confident person, but I found that I could just go out on court and play. Through playing, I realized that I’m actually not as bad at it as I thought, which helped build up my self-confidence in an environment where most people were really willing to help me work on my “game.” It gave me the chance to develop my social skills, which I use every single day. It wasn’t a club or a leadership position, but I attribute a lot of who I am today to those hours spent playing pick-up basketball in the gym.
Similarly, a friend from high school, Noah, who transferred to Illinois my sophomore year, also made a difference for me. I’m more shy, book-smart, and studious, while he is more of an outgoing risk-taker, so he really balanced me out, and in a way we both helped each other become more well-rounded individuals. I developed skills that have helped me in different aspects of my life, like, for example, in interviews, where being able to talk to people is something that you do need, and you don’t necessarily get those skills in a classroom doing equations.
While the range of possible post-graduation job opportunities was daunting, I remembered learning back in high school about chemical engineering jobs in the oil and gas industry where you work on an offshore platform. What really caught my eye was the fact that you get to go global and see other parts of the world that you otherwise wouldn’t get to see, like Angola, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea, or Singapore. It’s not really about the sites, it’s more about the opportunity to interact with people with life experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives different from yours. From the business side, it helps you understand what people in different parts of the world want, but also it benefits you on the personal side. So I thought I would go ahead and interview for oil and gas energy companies, with the hopes that I could attain that global experience. I’m with Exxon now, a global company that can offer its employees those opportunities, which is why I picked this job over, say, a consulting job or an operations type of job. Plus, almost everybody I’ve talked to and interacted with, whether that’s on a Zoom call or in person, has been extremely open to talking about their own experiences, to sharing tips and tricks, to helping each other out, which I really enjoy about it. Of course I enjoy the chemical engineering I do as well, but it’s really the people that make the job a special place for me.
In five years, I would like to have that abroad experience, since that’s what I came into this company for, and why I was interested in the energy industry in the first place. I would also love to be more involved with helping younger generations of people understand all the decisions that they have in front of them and encourage them to get involved earlier rather than later. For example, I want to encourage them to do research during their freshman and sophomore year and start thinking about internships they want to do. I got very fortunate, but I did have friends who interned in one area, and then found that they wanted to take a different career path, but they didn’t have any relevant experiences to get them there. My advice to current students would be to seek out opportunities that allow you to maintain a wide breadth of options for later in your college career. Closing certain doors can make exploring different paths in the future difficult, so keep seeking out opportunities for a wide range of experiences.