(MARSHALL, Texas) – Faculty members and students in Texas State Technical College’s Process Operations Technology program started working with a new virtual reality software system this summer.
PetroSkills Simulation Solutions’ Distillation VR is in the early stages of use this summer in the Process Technology III – Operations and Process Troubleshooting classes. Students can access the virtual software through TSTC’s Moodle platform if they are off campus.
The Marshall Economic Development Corp. authorized the purchase of the software in February and donated it to TSTC.
“Students experience what an actual process operator would see while being in the control room or walking the plant or refinery,” said Nicholas Cram, lead instructor in TSTC’s Process Operations Technology program. “The virtual operator provides students with a view of the plant similar to what you see with Google Earth if you were to scroll down to road level.”
The program’s instructors are able to virtually simulate dangerous scenarios for distillation systems like chemical leaks, explosions and plant fires.
“We can introduce problems into the simulation while it is running, then assess the students’ ability to get the situation under control and back on track,” said Cram. “We think this will be a great asset for the future.”
The program’s first-semester students will use the software starting this fall in the Introduction to Process Operations class.
“The software is very user-friendly,” Cram said. “It’s like anything new. Once you understand the functions of all the buttons, you pick things up really fast.”
TSTC’s program teaches students about industrial processes, troubleshooting, process instrumentation and other topics. Students can use these skills in chemical, gas, pharmaceutical, power plant, refinery and public utilities operations.
“We would like for those individuals to stay in Marshall and work here,” said Rush Harris, director of business services at MEDCO. “It increases our percentage of educated folks in town and increases our annual median and mean income. We are trying to keep the pipeline of employees going to some of these larger companies that pay well.”
Blake Cox, The TSTC Foundation’s East Texas field development officer, agreed.
“I think the gift has its importance mainly because it is coming from an economic development corporation,” said Cox. “I think that speaks volumes to what we are doing, and they want to reinvest back into their community.”
Instructors and MEDCO leaders see the software as a great recruiting tool.
“Using any educational technology provides a better learning platform for students and really emphasizes the ‘technical’ in TSTC,” Cram said. “We can also accommodate more students in a virtual lab, learning the same or more material than we can in a face-to-face lab. The software will never replace face-to-face, hands-on training, but it certainly shortens the learning curve in understanding process operations technology.”
More than 200 workers in Harrison County were employed in process operations as recently as 2018, according to a June wage and employment study conducted by MEDCO. The study found the annual average salary for process operations workers was $63,200.
Graduates of TSTC’s Process Operations Technology have gone on to be hired at Eastman Chemical Co. in Longview, Matheson Gas locations throughout Texas, and Sherwin-Williams and Plastipak Packaging Inc., both in Garland.
For more information on Texas State Technical College, go to tstc.edu.