Scholarship’s local recipient makes new life

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 26, 2005

All his life Chris Barrios has taken apart things that worked perfectly well and put them back together again. It shouldn’t be surprising he did the very same thing with his own future just before he was to go to college.

When Barrios was young he took the remote control car he received as a gift and instead of playing with it until the wheels fell off, he first would take it apart.

“Well, I wanted to see why and how it did what it did,” Barrios, 20-year old resident of DesAllemands, explained matter-of-factly.

When it came time to decide on a career, Barrios wasn’t sure what he would do but knew it had to be something that would allow him to satisfy his natural mechanical curiosity. So pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering seemed to make sense.

That plan started to change when a school-to-career counselor and talked to his class at Hahnville High School about Process Technology (PTEC), the standardized curriculum for a two-year associate of applied science degree that prepares people to work as process technology operators in the Louisiana chemical, oil and gas refining and processing industries.

Barrios decided to take a closer look for himself by taking a tour of the PTEC facilities at Louisiana Technical College – River Parishes Campus.

“It was awesome and it was obvious I was going to learn hands-on – by doing it,” Barrios said. “They had distillation towers and they said I was going to learn how they worked by working with them. They had pumps they showed me and they talked to me about how when a pump spins and moves fluid and they said I was going to learn why pumps did that. I was so excited about getting to learn hands on and that was it for me.”

Well, almost. What finally did it for Barrios was receiving a full PTEC scholarship worth $3,000 from Dow Chemical in St. Charles Parish.

“Well, I didn’t know exactly how I was going to pay for college,” Barrios said. “And what kept ringing in my ears was what the guy had told us when he came and talked to our class about PTEC. He said this was a good starting point for people who wanted to be engineers. And when I get a job as a process operator, my company will pay for me to go back to school and get an engineering degree if that’s what I still want to do. When I got the scholarship, it was the week before I was supposed to schedule my classes at UNO. I had to call them and tell them I got this scholarship. It just worked out the right way.”

Barrios said it appealed to him that he would not have student loans to repay and could start making earning a living in two years instead of four. Operators make a starting salary of nearly $35,000 annually – some plants pay more – and up to $40,000 within 30 months after being hired. And he’s already got some plans for that money.

“I want to help my parents pay off some debt and help them the way they have helped me and then I can buy some land and build a house and not have to rent something that is not mine, get on with my life and start a family,” Barrios said.

Barrios said he won’t limit to tearing things apart and putting them back together to his career as a process technology operator. Barrios said he bought a motorcycle about a month ago and has it “about half torn apart.”

“My best friend’s brother works fulltime at plant and he just like me – he’s a gear head” Barrios said. “And on the side he has a boat repair business because that’s what he likes to do. And he makes good money. If you work shift work you might only work 15 or 16 days a month. Who knows, I might open my own motorcycle shop.”

While Barrios does take an occasional peek at his future, he definitely remains grounded in the present. He just finished his first semester at LTC – River Parishes where he made straight A’s. And the opportunity to “learn it by doing it” still excites Barrios.

“I have never learned so much in a short amount of time in my life,” Barrios said. “This semester we learned about four-pass heat exchangers and the way we did that is by going outside and into the plant and working with them and seeing how the fluid flows through there and gives you a good exchange of heat. This is the best decision I have ever made in my life and I would be more than willing to share it with other people – I want people to know about PTEC.”

Dow St. Charles Operations is currently accepting applications for PTEC scholarships. The company will award up to two scholarships not to exceed $3,000 each to St. Charles Parish residents. The scholarship application deadline is February 14, 2005. The PTEC scholarship program is marketed by Career Builders, an intermediary that brings business and education together to make what is taught in the classroom more relevant to students and their careers.