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Refining an engineering education

If you are a Lehigh engineer and land a co-op or internship position, don’t expect to stand around holding a clipboard or collating copies -- there’s a good chance you’ll be asked to jump right into the deep end of the engineering pool.

Just ask Matthew Forrest ’14. After two successful and challenging co-op rotations with Exxon-Mobil’s refining and supply division, he’s been named as a top co-op student by the Cooperative Education and Internship Association (CEIA).

In early April, Matthew will receive the Student Achievement Award from CEIA at its annual conference, held this year in Seattle, WA. CEIA is a national non-profit that provides professional development and resources to the field of cooperative education.

Lehigh’s Engineering Co-Op Program is a unique, selective honors program that provides seven to nine months of paid, full-time work experience. Available to top students from all undergraduate engineering disciplines at Lehigh, the program provides the opportunity for students to bridge engineering theory and application and earn valuable experience within their chosen field while graduating within four years.

ExxonMobil Corporation, a perennial co-op program partner, put Matthew to work in its electrical and instrument engineering group. This team maintains and upgrades existing control systems and machinery power distribution to ensure reliable refinery operations.

In his first rotation, Matthew worked at Exxon’s Baton Rouge Refinery, where he completed projects like programming new variable frequency drives to control motors and automating drum level controls to prevent shutdowns. Matthew believes this provided him with a broad overview of the business.

"To grow my Instrument Engineering knowledge, I completed training courses and maintained close contact with my mentors and coworkers who were always available to answer questions," Matthew recalls.

In his second co-op rotation with Exxon, Matthew worked at the firm’s Torrance Refinery in California, where he helped to improve the site’s reliability by tailoring best practices he had seen in Baton Rouge to the Torrance site. Matthew was able to design a new work process for the refinery’s control valve repair shop to improve effectiveness and efficiency of repairs. He was also able to work on a greenhouse gas reporting system that allowed the refinery to comply with new reporting standard and reduce engineering costs.

Not only did Forrest work exceptionally hard as a co-op, but he also spent much of his free time volunteering in the community. He helped build a boat shed at a local wetlands preserve, volunteered at ExxonMobil’s math and science camp for underserved middle-school students, and spent time working with Operation Teddy Bear, packing backpacks with school supplies, books, and teddy bears for disadvantaged first graders at local elementary schools.

At the end of his co-op, Matthew made a formal presentation of all of his projects to a wide audience, including members of the refinery leadership team.

"After completing my two co-op rotations, I feel as if I have become a more mature, knowledgeable and well-rounded person," Matthew said. "Co-op presented me with the opportunity to acquire technical knowledge and real life experiences that would not have been possible to obtain in the classroom."

According to Nick Praedin, assistant director of co-op & experiential education, "Matthew's CEIA award reflects his determination, leadership, and positive attitude. Over the past few years of working with our program, Matthew has displayed a commitment to making a positive impact at Lehigh, and a knack for capitalizing on opportunities he creates for himself. In this way, Matthew is a prime example of the many achievements of our co-op students."

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