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September 2020 – To Connect or Not Connect, That is the Question

Email, Instant Messenger, Websites, Cell Phones, SMS, MySpace, WebEx, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Zoom, LinkedIn, Instagram, TikTok, and I am sure a whole list of others. To think, when I got my first email address ([email protected] in case you are curious, and yes I still have boxes in my basement filled with various Pez Dispensers and Pez-related items) most of those things I mentioned would have just sounded like nonsense words. Heck, I might argue that even today a lot of it is all complete nonsense.

There are a lot of ways we have connected virtually over the last 25 years or so with a lot of the focus now shifting to social media platforms. You see, I am not the biggest fan of social media, having opted almost 10 years ago to socially distance myself from most social media – limiting my use to Twitter and LinkedIn primarily for professional reasons. So, when ISA announced ISAConnect, the latest way to interact with other ISA members, I was torn.

In case you haven’t heard, ISAConnect just launched about a week ago. In fact, the whole ISA.org website was completely refreshed. If you haven’t been to ISA.org in a while, I encourage you to go check out all the changes. That is, after you are done reading this top notch blog.

“What is ISAConnect?” you might be asking (well if you weren’t, you definitely are now). ISAConnect is an exclusive online community for ISA members to network, learn, and get involved with the ISA, and in this time of working remotely and virtual meetings – a much needed resource to learn about the latest in automation. Here are just a few of the ISAConnect features as listed at ISA.org:  

  • Engage in technical discussions
  • Access technical knowledge available anytime, any place!
  • Tag and locate posts by industry topic
  • Enjoy personalized notifications based on your interests
  • Build your professional network
  • Search the Member Directory
  • Add peers as contacts
  • Connect with sections and divisions
  • Stay up-to-date on programs and activities
  • Discover opportunities to volunteer and get involved
  • Enhance your personal profile
  • Add your story, your interests, and your accolades
  • Build your volunteer and expert profiles to learn about and be matched with opportunities

 

Ok Cory, what is up with the sales pitch from a guy who isn’t “the biggest fan of social media”? Well, to be honest, I was not on board at first, but I have spent the past few days poking around and am excited for the possibilities. ISAConnect promises to be a safe online community focused on advancing our education of all things automation. ISAConnect will help connect our Section to new resources that we can share with the local automation community. I do encourage you to take ISAConnect for a quick test drive. I am sure you will see many of the benefits that I see in this exciting new tool from ISA.

For anyone interested, which should be everyone by now, there is a quick start guide here: ISAConnect Guide

Let’s ISAConnect Soon!

 

Cory N. Kniepp

ISA St. Louis - President

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August 2020 – Looking Back to Look Forward

Recently I found myself reflecting on the rich history of our Section. (Side note, did you know the St. Louis Section pre-dates the ISA itself? In case of a future trivia night – St. Louis Section, originally formed in 1943 by a group of local instrumentation and process engineers; ISA formed in 1945.) The end of World War II was still 2 years away with a lot of the local work force deployed around the world. I find myself wondering what conversations the local Section leadership were having in 1943.

One of the conversations we continually have today is how to identify and engage with the next generation of engineers. I can’t help but think what this conversation must have been like during the early days of our Section. With such uncertainty in the world, and most of the next generation off serving our country, how did our founders handle those conversations and the challenges they faced? Identifying the next generation aside, with a lot of expertise busy serving our country how did they plan their technical programs?

We now find ourselves facing a different type of uncertainty – when do we get back to normal. Don’t get me wrong, my money is and always will be on science triumphing in this fight and the world getting back to work in normal conditions, but the big question is how long will that take? Other questions we are faced with: what does the local workforce look like in the future? Will this uncertainty force companies to invest more in automation or shutter completely?

Let’s look back again. In 1943, here are some of the businesses that, according to some quick research at “Google University”, were important to our local economy: Mallinckrodt Chemical Company (refining uranium), Chevrolet (military vehicles), Curtiss-Wright (aircraft), Monsanto (chemicals and compounds), and the Army Ammunition Plant. Many of these places must have been running nearly 24/7 to help in the efforts. Many of these facilities were most likely running short handed or with temporary help (short personal story here, my Grandmother worked at Allis-Chalmers in Springfield, IL during this time - helping to build heavy equipment, such as artillery tractors and bulldozers – work that was far from her eventual career as a Librarian). How did the Section engage with the membership while everyone hard at work supporting the war efforts?

To be a fly on the wall in early days of our Section. I can only imagine the discussion at those meetings about the technical hurdles those engineers had during a time of rationing and production focused primarily on the war effort. Can you imagine having to rely on their technology to properly manufacture, refine, create, and build? How did they energize the Section, find new members, and identify leaders?

Ok, back to today. Some of those businesses are still around, and many new ones have entered the area. Our Section clearly handled all those challenges they faced as we are here today, some 77 years later, to reflect on them and look ahead to our own challenges.

Our focus is still to deliver good technical content that helps develop the members in our Section. We are currently delivering that content through virtual meetings until we can meet safely in person again. Using these same tools, we are also continuing our outreach to local technical schools and universities to help deliver our shared technical expertise with the next generation of engineers. For the current membership, we are sharing ISA information for anyone that might find themselves in a hardship due to Covid-19 and we as the Section’s Board are working hard to minimize and absorb any costs associated with the virtual programs. We have increased our web presence with a revamped website, and we will continue to add pertinent content to that site for our membership. We have brought new leaders into the Board and we will continue to welcome anyone interested in volunteering in anyway to support the Section.

Looking back at our founding has given me inspiration to help face our current challenges so that we come out of this a stronger Section than ever before. Looking ahead to when we are back to the proverbial normal, I am excited to celebrate us overcoming these challenges with all of you at our first in-person event, whenever that may be. Until then, stay safe, wear a mask, and stay tuned to isastl.org for the latest program schedule.

Cory N. Kniepp

ISA St. Louis - President

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July 2020 - ISA St. Louis 2.0 or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Webinar

First off, I’d like to thank Ed Biggs. As you hopefully know, Ed served as our President the past 2 years. He did an amazing job. Streamlined a lot – seriously a lot - of behind the scenes work that the Board does, engaged new members, identified new leaders, made sure we had good monthly programs, and injected some enthusiasm that I had not seen in the section in some time. If you haven’t done so already, please thank Ed for all his hard work.

Secondly, I am pleased to introduce the 2020-22 ISA St. Louis Board:

  • Cory Kniepp – President, Membership Chair, Newsletter Editor
  • Mike Unterreiner – Vice President, Secretary
  • Hycintia Subash – Treasurer, Social Media Chair
  • Ed Biggs – Past President, Society Delegate
  • Nick Erickson – Standards & Practices Chair, Webmaster, Section-Division Liaison, Alt. Delegate
  • Kevin McLaughlin – Program Chair

 

Please feel free to reach out to any of these Board members if you are interested in volunteering.

When I was approached about running for President again, I was flattered, but hesitant. See, this is round 2 for me, and while I have stayed engaged holding multiple volunteer positions over the past several years, I never thought I’d hold an Executive Board position again with the Section. After speaking with many, and given the current state of the world, I came a way with this: the Section and the World are in a state of transition. I plan on using my previous experience as President to bridge to the new leaders we have identified and others that will follow. Here are just a few of my goals for my term:

  • We will be working on updating our Bylaws to be in lock-step with the Society.
  • We will continue to identify and grow new Section Leaders.
  • We will hold regular meetings and programs that engage an engineer’s natural curiosity.
  • We will improve our outreach to local companies and schools to share our resources as we are the local representatives of the organization that sets the Standard in Automation.

 

Now, the elephant in the room, something happened as the calendar turned to 2020. The world was struck with a pandemic and work went virtual. Programs that the Board was excited about (including a social one involving axes being thrown) were indefinitely postponed and the Webinar Meeting/Program became the standard.

For those that don’t know me, I am usually the social type. Love the face-to-face engagement and built a great career in Sales & Marketing based on my love of getting to know people. During one of my roles I managed a remote team spread across the US. The biggest pain-point I had in that role was the constant WebEx/Conference Call. I muddled through many a remote presentation to our team, but I always wanted a personal touch with anyone outside of our organization – either professional groups or customers. To make a long story only slightly longer, we are currently in a situation that for safety sake the Webinar is the best setting for all meetings and I’ve learned to adapt and love the convenience.

What does it all mean for the ISA St. Louis Section? We will be utilizing the webinar format until we, as a Board, are comfortable enough to know that face to face meetings are safe. Over the past several months we’ve had some excellent Webinar speakers on best practices for working remotely, poultry processing (anyone else still avoiding chicken?), and some social Happy Hours as well.

While I really do miss seeing all of you in person, I’ve learned to quit worrying when we will be able to meet in person again and I have embraced the convenience of Zoom or WebEx or Teams or whatever your preferred webinar tool is. I’ve kept in mind that the traffic from the fridge to the kitchen is always light with only an occasional dog or toddler jamming up the hall, the beverages and meals are always on the house, and my chair is always at its optimal setting for my comfort.

Stay Safe, wear a mask, and together we will push forward to a better tomorrow. Automation is playing its most important role yet, and ISA is at the forefront of Automation Standards. I hope that you all continue to be a part of this wonderful organization.

 

Cory N. Kniepp

ISA St. Louis - President

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