Returning to school to pursue a higher education proved to be a fruitful decision for Zach Russell, a LyondellBasell process technician at the Morris plant. As a result of his cooperative education with LyondellBasell, Northern Illinois University recently named Russell, Intern of the Year.
Russell decided to pursue a mechanical engineering degree because as a mechanical engineer for the site, the schedule is better for his family, and he enjoys the push and challenge the career entails.
Understanding the wealth of opportunity corporations like LyondellBasell offer through engineering careers, Russell decided to challenge himself and take on working full time while going back to school through the LyondellBasell tuition reimbursement program. Graduating in May 2024, Russell returned to school and earned an assignment as a co-op engineer. Typical co-ops maintain full-time student status while their work experience becomes part of their academic history. Through this program, LyondellBasell pays a portion of Russell’s tuition and books, while providing him with real-time engineering experience within the plant.
According to Russell, the benefits of being both an employee and a student at the Morris Plant has been worth the added work.
“Helping create processes and procedures and communicating with different groups to ensure alignment has been such a learning experience within this role,” said Russell. “I can appreciate the other side of the lens seeing how this team operates through this experience and through my background as a technician.”
As an co-op engineer, Russell will work the upcoming LyondellBasell Morris Plant turnaround, a maintenance event this summer that will allow him to see each step of a turbine and compressor overhaul and assist in leading the technical side of the maintenance work.
Dan Valdez, a manager with LyondellBasell Morris Plant, believes in the time and investment companies like LyondellBasell utilize to develop and support their employees.
“I have been a strong advocate of educational assistance programs for many years,” said Valdez. “This is the first time I have seen a process technician leverage both the tuition reimbursement and co-op program to gain experience and leverage their career within the company.”
Although a nerve-racking decision at the time, Russell is grateful for the first step he took to make changes within his career. He had this advice to share with others considering a similar move.
“Write down your goals, put your head down, get ready to work, and never look back,” said Russell. “We are much more capable than we think.”