Area high school girls tour BP Whiting Refinery as part of STEM Day

A group of area high school girls watched intently as a BP worker showed them instruments that read temperature and pressure at the BP Whiting Refinery.

By showing them the instruments and how they work, Kim Dray, co-lead of the women’s international network at the refinery, said the young girls are exposed to possible careers in maintenance or engineering.

About 40 high school students from Whiting, Hammond and East Chicago schools participated in a STEM Day event Friday at the BP Whiting Refinery. The event aims to expose young girls to the different career possibilities in STEM, Dray said.

The women’s network started holding the STEM Day event in 2018, though took a few years off amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Dray said. In the years it has been held, Dray said each year more young girls sign up to participate.

“It’s great because the students really get an appreciation for what it’s like to work in the STEM industry,” Dray said.

The day started with a safety video, a bus tour of the refinery and a tour of the fire station, Dray said. Then, over lunch, the girls listened to a panel of women who hold different job levels at the refinery, she said.

After lunch, the girls got to see different refinery instruments, view a refinery safety simulation inside an igloo and try the slip simulator, which workers use to practice safely walking on slick surfaces that they could encounter at the refinery in the winter months, said Nicole Adamopoulos, with the BP Learning Department.

In the igloo, workers get to practice different scenarios they will experience in the field, like starting or stopping a pump or a process change, in a controlled environment, Adamopoulos said.

“We very much feel that technology has allowed us to fast track our learning and give people a chance to make mistakes and to do it in a way where they can really learn from them without the safety consequences,” Adamopoulos said.

Denise Huerta, a freshman at East Chicago Central High School, said she really enjoyed the event because she enjoys her math classes. Huerta said her career goal is to become a pilot, but she was interested to see the other career options for her in the STEM field.

During the panel, Huerta said she was excited to hear from one woman who mentioned that a career in STEM has allowed her to travel the world. As an aspiring pilot, Huerta said she wants a career that exposes her to travel.

“That really opened my mind. A pilot isn’t my only option to travel the world,” Huerta said. “I’m really glad I came.”

Arnoldo Carrillo, the Work-Base Learning Coordinator for East Chicago Central High School, said the STEM Day field trip exposes students to career opportunities they may not have considered.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to be exposed … to a desire, as they go through high school, thinking I know I can achieve more,” Carrillo said.

Dray, who has been a mechanical engineer for 25 years, said her father was an engineer so she was exposed to the career early in her life. But, many high school girls don’t have exposure to STEM career options, which the event aims to change, Dray said.

“I want them to see that you can have a career in manufacturing, engineering,” Dray said. “I want them to see that it’s possible and that it’s not going to be intimidating.”