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Kabila Gana

Kabila Gana

K-State graduation year: May 2014
Degree: Chemical Engineering
Current employer: Chevron Phillips Chemical
Position: Process Engineer






Describe the process of choosing your major.

Fortunately, in my teenage years, I was lucky enough to spot that I had key skills and competencies that could propel me into excelling in the science industry. My fondness of mathematics and passion for chemistry helped me choose to pursue a career in chemical engineering.

What activities/organizations were you involved in while in college?
  • Zeta Chi Chapter of Phi Sigma Pi National Honors Fraternity (PSP) – Founder
  • African Student Union – President
  • Steel Ring Professional Engineering Honor Society - Vice President
  • National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) - Secretary
  • Society of Women Engineers (SWE)
  • United Black Voices
Did you complete an internship or have related work experience prior to receiving your job?

Yes, I interned with ExxonMobil at the downstream headquarters in Fairfax, VA as part of their USGC Feedstock Optimizing group. This was a door-opener as I got an exposure into the day-to-day lives of a professional chemical engineer and this experience certainly shaped and mapped my vision on my career post-graduation. I was given projects to work throughout the summer. My main project was to develop a methodology to assess the value of challenge FCC feeds, and running engineering simulations for sample cases. I spent about 70 percent of my time at my desk, and the other portion of my time was split between group meetings and training sessions where I got to interact with a variety of people from across the company and learn about what they worked on.

Describe the process of finding your first job.

Finding my first job was exciting and involved a lot of work. I visited Career and Employment Services prior to career fairs to ensure that my resume was ready.  Prior to career fairs, I did my homework.  By that I mean – doing research on which companies were being represented, selecting my top 6, studying the companies (figure out what companies did, who they are hiring and if it was an interesting venture) and preparing questions for them.

When this was done, I felt more comfortable having conversations with the company representatives as I handed them my resume.  I was fortunate enough to be invited for a next-day interview. When that was successful a second interview was offered. This second invite was twofold. It served as an interview and site visit at the prospective job location. This gave me a feel of the area, the people and the atmosphere.  The job offers came in after this!

In addition to career fairs, I posted my resume for job openings that interested me and spoke to guest speakers who came in to speak at K-State for AICHE, SWE and NSBE meetings.  This provided another opportunity to market myself.

Briefly describe a typical day at your job.

My day at the plant starts with a morning brief. This is an opportunity to know how the plant ran overnight and learn about any challenges that were met that need to be addressed during the day. An outlay of the day’s activities is presented and includes project and maintenance tasks with focus on environmentally-friendliness.

Following the meeting, I usually get an action item to follow up on. In addition to this, I have other major projects to for which I am responsible. My organizational skills come into play as I prioritize my day. My teamwork skills are also utilized as I am invited to complete project tasks with other engineers and operators on a daily basis.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I take delight in a new adventure every day as no task tend to be the same. I also get the opportunity to interact with very bright individuals on a daily basis and learn from my peers.

What advice would you give someone interested in your field?

There are two things: first, invest a lot of time in securing an internship with a chemical engineering-related role prior to graduation. This counts as significant experience and top employers/recruiters sometimes apply this as eligibility for their entry-level positions. This is a win-win scenario as you get a lot of exposure to what could potentially be your future job.

Second, engage in networking and find yourself a chemical engineer in your networks and ask them to mentor you. My mentors played a huge part in my college success and in securing work experiences. Understandably, they have the experience and can pass on advice and tips to help you excel. A little bit of patience, paying attention to detail and organizational skills can help a whole lot, too.  

What were the major lifestyle changes your first year out of college that made the transition hard from college to the world of work and how did you adapt?

There were days that turned into nights and then days in the those Chemical Engineering labs.

Nevertheless, like every other graduate would tell you, it’s been the sleeping pattern. When working, you are contracted to commence work at certain times and engineers often have early mornings. To adapt my behavior, I aim not to keep very late nights as this is healthy and provides a much needed energy boost for the next day.

What tips do you have for current undergrads about opportunities they should definitely take advantage of while they are in school?

While in school be sure to make use of the resources available.  The services at CES and their website are great tools to help students seek internships and full-time jobs. Also, they have networking events during which students are able to meet with recruiters. Be sure to talk to advisors and professors as they have a whole network that students do not have. They are able to connect you with other people that you might be interested in working for. 

Something else I found important was getting a part-time job as a full-time student, which provided me with transferable skills. Time management and work ethic, for instance, are things you will not learn in the classroom which are vital in the real world. Putting yourself out there and learning to work and interact with a diverse group of people outside the classroom is important. It helps you grow as a person and prepares you for what you will do upon graduating from college. When I look back at my college experience I do not think I missed out on anything!!

What didn't college teach you that you wish you would have known before you started your career?

My career so far has taught me that there is no harm in asking questions. If you don’t know something, feel free to ask someone who has more experience on the issue. As a new engineer, the senior engineers appreciate our naivety and are always on hand to provide assistance whenever needed. Not knowing something should also be a self-challenge and you should conduct some research in the issue before running to the seniors for help.

College teaches us the theory behind everything. However, project work requires us to take this theory into the field. It becomes more practical accompanied with more analysis, a structured methodology and results.

Do you keep in touch with your college classmates? How have those relationships influenced your career?

I strongly believe people you meet and the relationships you build are your best networking tool. That said, I do keep in touch with them. So far, we do a great job at encouraging each other.