Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Scaling up: Growing Midland College's Engineering Program

• Ways for MC students to apply engineering principles to the real world

By Rebecca Bell
Dean of Community Relations & Special Events

“Everything we do is to help students be successful and advance into their careers as quickly as possible,” said Brian Flowers, Midland College’s (MC) new Engineering and Physics instructor. “Engineers must be one-half scientist and one-half businessperson. A good engineer knows how to research and use science to find a solution to a problem, and then apply that solution to the real world. My goal at Midland College is to ensure students who are interested in pursuing engineering careers are prepared for their future classes and beyond.”

Flowers joined MC this past August after completing a bachelor’s, master’s and most of a doctoral degree in Chemical Engineering at The University of Alabama. He is scheduled to defend his doctoral dissertation entitled, “Advanced Solvents for CO2 Separations” on October 14.

“I grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and spent most of my youth trying to get out of Tuscaloosa,” explained Flowers. “When I graduated from high school in 2006, I had several scholarships and opportunities to attend various universities, including Georgia Tech; however, after being given some fatherly advice, I chose to stay in Tuscaloosa.”

As it turned out, it was solid advice, as that’s where Flowers met his wife Emily who is also a chemical engineer. She works as a wireline perforation engineer at Halliburton. The couple have been married for about 18 months.

Flowers described their wedding ceremony as a “science nerd’s dream wedding” and said, “We were married at the Huntsville, Alabama, Space & Rocket Center under the Saturn V Rocket (used in the Apollo program to put man on the moon) on Pi Day—March 14, 2015.” [Pi Day is celebrated on March 14 (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter π) is the mathematical symbol used to represent the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which is approximately 3.14159.]

True to their profession, Flowers and his wife each have one-half of the Ideal Gas Law (PV=nRT) printed on the inside of their wedding bands. He said the idea behind this is to remind the couple that when one side changes, the other side has to also change in order to keep the equation balanced.

At MC, Flowers teaches Engineering and Physics courses. He will expand MC’s Engineering offerings in the spring semester to Engineering Graphics and Engineering Economics.

Flowers said, “When I heard about the Engineering program at Midland College, I was very impressed. Students have wonderful opportunities to matriculate through MC to major in Engineering at such schools as Texas Tech, The University of Texas of the Permian Basin, Texas A&M, The University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Texas at El Paso, just to name a few. Texas Tech School of Engineering works with us to offer wonderful scholarships in every field of Engineering.”

According to Flowers, the goal of MC’s Engineering program is to provide freshman- and sophomore-level courses in engineering and to allow students to take core courses in small class settings and at MC’s affordable tuition before transferring to a senior-level institution.

“Engineering career opportunities are numerous throughout the world,” stated Flowers. “Right here in Midland, there is a great demand for all types of engineers—not just petroleum engineers, as one might think. Midland companies also hire chemical engineers and mechanical engineers. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Midland has the highest ’annual mean wage’ for civil engineers. Number two on the list is Anchorage, Alaska; and Odessa ranks ninth.”

Brian Flowers also serves as the advisor for the MC Engineering Club. This year, the club will be working with the MC Chemistry Department to design and build sensor systems for testing water chemistry around coral reefs. Chemistry students (and potentially engineering students) will use these systems in summer 2017 when they travel to Honduras for research. “The water sensor project is a perfect example of a real-world engineering problem,” explained Flowers. “Our task is to design and build a tangible product before the end of the spring semester. The device that we develop must be able to sit on the bottom of the sea floor for 24 hours and work properly. Students must be willing to devote time to the project, as all development work will be done outside of regular class times. It’s a great experience, and will be an impressive item to include on university admissions packets for baccalaureate and graduate degrees.”

Flowers is no stranger to traveling abroad for research and teaching. In connection with his graduate studies, he traveled to Beijing and Hawaii and has taught for two summers at the Technical University of Denmark in Kongens Lyngby, just north of Copenhagen. Closer to home, Flowers interned as an undergraduate student at the Edwin I. Hatch Nuclear Plant near Baxley, Georgia.
During the next year, Flowers is looking forward to finding additional ways for MC students to apply engineering principles to the real world. Some of those plans include partnering on projects with the college’s Computer Graphics program housed at the Midland College Advanced Technology Center.

“I love Midland,” exclaimed Flowers. “I was very fortunate to land a teaching job at Midland College. Research and teaching are my passion, and I’m finding lots of opportunities for research that I can share with students. I want to boost Midland College’s presence nationally, and the best way to do that is to give students the knowledge and skills they need in order to excel in their future studies and to have successful, rewarding careers.”

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