The ISA Mentor Program protégés received many positive comments by attendees on the presentations given at ISA Automation Week 2012. The control performance track chair, George Buckbee, commented the presentations were evidence that the ISA Mentor Program was a resounding success. This caused me to step back and think what the key factors might have been. I really did not know how I was going to pull this off. I just knew it was extremely important. I went in with the idea of getting a running start by website and personal invitations and letting the program evolve, learning what works as I go. The program was so to speak “my Mentor.”
The protégés are an extremely talented and energetic group wanting to learn and become more prominent technically. The addition of Hunter Vegas as a Mentor complemented my skills and added another dimension of enthusiasm. Hunter is involved in the “First” program and gives “Mr. Wizard” types of demos at grade schools to encourage interest in science and engineering. We plan to add technical resources. We have invited George Buckbee for tuning, Michel Ruel for advanced regulatory control, and Mark Darby for model predictive control. All of us felt the program deserved the extra effort despite more than full-time jobs. The protégés immediately formed a profound bond and a desire to communicate by more than just email and website posts. Hence, we have started a monthly web meeting led by one of the Mentors or protégés. I think the bond was particularly strong because the protégés were all end users and the Mentors had extensive plant experience.
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The choice of end users as the protégés was more important than I realized. These people don’t get the recognition they deserve. These are the people on the front line. Their expertise is critical to the advancement and recognition of the profession. We don’t want ISA conferences and meetings to end up being suppliers talking to suppliers. While the quality of the hardware, software, tools, engineering services, and supplier is important, the long-term success of an automation system ultimately depends upon the people in the plant. The plant is where “the rubber meets the road.”
Social media enabled rapid communication and extensive access to technical information and results. The use of the ISA Interchange blog was extremely effective for posting general questions and answers and tips for a successful automation career. We look forward to the addition of monthly web-based meetings.
While there was not really enough time from the start of the Mentor Program at ISA Automation Week 2011 to the deadline of abstract and paper submittal given that end users have considerable approval processes to follow, the deadline itself served to create an imperative. Since this is largely an extra curricula effort, the urgency of the deadline prevented the easy slip into inactivity in terms of advancing the Mentor program. We have since shifted an effort to get articles by the protégés published.