Bethany Clarkson has an exciting career with BP
As planning performance and learning manager she aims to provide technical support and decide on programs that improve business and minimize risk
When Bethany Clarkson was in the fourth grade in Louisville, KY, her teacher told the class that 90 percent of Kentuckians never leave the state their entire lives. Clarkson vowed to herself that she'd be one of the 10 percent. She wanted to get out and see the world!
She's certainly realized that dream in her career as a ChE with BP America (Houston, TX). But it hasn't always been easy. As an African American, a woman and an engineer, she's often had to push past her comfort zone.
A new team
Today Clarkson is a member of BP America's health, safety, security environmental and engineering (HSSE and Engineering) team, and manager of the newly formed planning, performance and learning team. She started the job early in the spring of 2010; the aim is to provide technical support via data analysis, auditing, planning coordination and sharing best practices from inside and outside the company. The information her planning, performance and learning team provides lets the HSSE and Engineering team develop programs that improve business and minimize risk. Based in Houston, she focuses on the exploration and production business group.
Consulting with colleagues
Clarkson continually consults with team colleagues. One of them, for example, focuses on the North American Gas business group. They compare notes on trends and work together on issues and processes. "It's a matter of dividing and conquering," she says.
Because of her strong operational background, Clarkson was brought onto the HSSE and Engineering team as a communication bridge between the technical authorities and the people actively engaged in day-to-day operations. "I work with technical experts and operations to find out what tools they need," she says. She works "a lot of hours. This is a 24-hour operation, and you have to be available when needed."
Clarkson has her own staff of six, most of them technical experts in auditing, planning and HSSE data analysis. "We gather the facts and present them to the various groups within the Gulf of Mexico to enable them to develop solutions," she says.
Commonality is essential
Right now her biggest challenge is "being seen as the new kid on the block in HSSE and Engineering. And of course I'm dealing with people who have a wealth of knowledge and experience."
She thinks the biggest thing is finding the commonality, "where we can relate. I'm always honest about my limitations and what I hope to gain. You have to be able to learn and break down barriers, and say, 'What are your thoughts on doing it this way?'"
Chemistry is fun
Clarkson learned that "chemistry can be fun" from a great high school teacher. She attended "Increasing Student Preparedness and Interest in the Requisites for Engineering" (INSPIRE), a University of Louisville program designed to get women and minorities interested in engineering careers. The summer before her senior year in high school she participated in the Bell South SummerTech week at Auburn University (Auburn, AL), focused on EE and African American history.
When she completed her 1994 BSChE at Washington University in St. Louis, Clarkson worked for Messer MG Industries (St. Charles, MO) as a cryogenic applications and project engineer.
"I was one of very few women engineers for a long time. I traveled to a lot of little places in the middle of nowhere, and I had a really good relationship with the people at the rental car places."
She wanted to move away from the Midwest, and a friend from college made arrangements for Clarkson to visit BP. "I went to the plant, had a good interview, met a great bunch of people, and was asked to join BP in Texas City, TX as a process engineer.
"It was a family environment," she says. "Everybody helped me out."
A variety of assignments
She joined in 2000 and soon moved up to working team leader. In 2003 she was given asset management superintendent responsibilities for the propylene concentration and styrenics units. In 2004 she left her Texas City team for a post in Grangemouth, Scotland in the UK. She found a friendly environment there, too, and handled asset management responsibilities at the Grangemouth refinery until 2006.
"Fifty men worked for me. It was a good experience, and they were a great group of guys!"
Clarkson returned to Houston, TX in December 2006 as an implementation specialist. She developed a plan for integrated field planning and production efficiency improvement for BP's Thunder Horse oil production platform in the Gulf of Mexico. She went on to a job as operations support lead in Houston, handling budget management and cost forecasting, and served as a field/office liaison for the Horn Mountain platform, also in the Gulf of Mexico. She took over her current job early this year.
"At times in my career I was the only woman or the only African American. I didn't let that kind of challenge discourage me from taking new steps," she says. "Stepping out and doing something different let me find new things I enjoy and helped me grow more as a person."
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