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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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