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VISD teachers, counselors take Alcoa tour

Nov. 17, 2012 at 5:17 a.m.

Those attending the Alcoa tour were, back row: Peter McNally, VBEC; Roland Cedillo, senior engineering technician; Andy Saenz, staff process control engineer; Juan Salcines, process control engineering specialist; Cheryl Clark, VISD; Alice Shimek, VISD district counselor; Christina McDonald, VISD family and consumer science teacher; Joe Holochwost, VISD CTI robotics teacher; Clifton Simmons, VISD business education teacher; James Matson, VISD CTI electrical technology teacher; John Wright, VISD CTI welding teacher; Rachel Clark, VISD health science teacher; Mike Tupa, machine shop supervisor; Jennifer Shumaker, Registered Nurse; Pablo Rivas, operations controller, and Travis Williams, senior medical coordinator. Front row: Eloy Olivo, reliability electrical engineer; Joseph Villarreal, VISD CTI architectural design teacher; Amy Alexander, VISD middle architectural teacher; Cathy Ramirez, VISD health science teacher; Gloria Wilhelm, VISD family consumer science teacher; Fonda Kerslake , VISD Liberty counselor; Angie Ardner, VISD VEHS business education teacher; Holly Parker, VISD health science teacher; Lauri Voss, VISD CTE coordinator; and Laurel Cahill, Alcoa public relations manager.

Alcoa Point Comfort Operations organized an opportunity for Victoria school district educators to experience careers at the plant to learn about the products that are made there and sent to aluminum plants in North America.

The visit offered 14 VISD career and technical education teachers who work with students in welding, health science, electrical, architectural design, business, information technology, family consumer science, robotics and engineering the chance to spend time with professionals in these fields and see firsthand what is required to be able to perform duties at Alcoa.

They toured the facility and gained insight about career opportunities they can share with students.

Point Comfort Operations, the only Alcoa alumina refinery in the U.S., officially opened as an aluminum smelter in 1950.

Today, the plant produces alumina and alumina chemicals. It employs 650 people and has a sizeable contractor workforce.

Alcoa Foundation and Alcoa Point Comfort Operations has given more than $130,000 in grants and contributions to nonprofit organizations, community projects and education initiatives each year.

Ben Kahrs, operations manager, explained the Point Comfort supplies alumina, a white granular material, to Alcoa smelters in Indiana and Quebec, Canada, where it's made into aluminum.

Kahrs described the knowledge and qualities students need to be effective in the workplace.

"Along with solid foundation of basic academic knowledge, employees need the ability to communicate, collaborate and think creatively about ways to solve problems," he said.

Kevin Riggs, production manager, explained that making alumina from a red ore called bauxite uses "chemistry on a very big scale."

The plant receives the bauxite from mines in Brazil and Africa.

To turn bauxite into alumina, Alcoa grinds the red ore and mixes it with lime and caustic soda, pumps the mixture into high-pressure vessels and heats it.

The aluminum oxide is dissolved by the caustic soda, then precipitated out of this solution, washed, and heated to drive off water.

The white alumina is loaded into barges and ships for transport to Alcoa aluminum smelters that convert the alumina to shiny metal.

Riggs said that demand of aluminum is strong because of the need for more fuel-efficient cars, planes and other products produced from aluminum.

The tour provided a lead-in to the event Alcoa Foundation is sponsoring with Victoria Business and Education Coalition.

The Dream Big STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Expo is set for Jan. 23-24 at the Victoria ISD Conference Center, 2909 Miori Lane, during the school day.

All eighth-grade students in Victoria ISD will have an opportunity to see a wide variety of career opportunities with industries and businesses located in the region.

Students will learn about occupations in welding, instrumentation/electrical, process technology, mechanical engineering, logistics/assembly, robotics, graphic design, medical, police and fire.

Speakers will demonstrate what they do in their jobs on a daily basis, share education requirements, salary ranges, what they like and dislike about the occupation along with many other topics.

High school teachers will be present to share with the students what classes to take in high school that align with post-secondary and into these jobs.

We want to educate students on great careers that are available for them here in the Victoria area.

The expo will be open to the public from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Jan. 23-24 at the VISD Conference Center.



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