Talk with Stwart Peña Feliz (Senior Process Engineer)

This week, we introduce you to Stwart Peña Feliz. He is an alumni of BSc.Eng in Chemical Engineering from the prestigious Cornell University in 2017. He will be pursuing his MBA at MIT Sloan and is planing to graduate in 2023. He is currently working as a Senior Process Engineer and VP of Business Development at a start-up called Utility Global.

Utility Global is a company looking to disrupt the global hydrogen market. Utility Global will provide hydrogen on a distributed basis on a cost competitive basis with centralized fossil fuel units, resulting on massive savings for consumers due to avoiding the logistics and shipping costs associated with hydrogen delivery. With this, Utility Global is planning to make hydrogen more accessible and desirable in the market, facilitating the growth of renewable energy worldwide.

Stwart is a highly competent chemical engineer and has ample technical experience from his university years. He worked as a Researcher at Cornell and later worked as a Process Design Engineer intern at ExxonMobil. Given his skills and expertise, ExxonMobil hired him as an engineer in their team. Upon having earned in-depth industrial skills and experience, he is now currently applying his skills in a start-up, Utility Global, and plans to move this startup towards further success. Given his skills and experience, we are certain that his ambitious goals will surely be met!

We were lucky to have an interview with Stwart and learn about his experience and future plans. Read below to learn more about him and his chemical engineering experience.

Education

Where and when did you get your degree(s)?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science (BSc.Eng) in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University in 2017. I will be pursuing my MBA from MIT Sloan and will graduate in 2023.

How was the workload of your degree? What did you spend most time on?

The workload at Cornell was very intense. It is very demanding of your time, and classes are rather difficult to fully challenge students to their limit. I spent the most amount of time in my ChemE Core Engineering courses. Especially Senior Design, where each member of the group would spend on average >30 hours per week. But, it was a very rewarding experience that fully prepared me and all my peers for industry.

Was there a lot of chemistry in your curriculum?

Yes. 2 base chemistry courses, Quantum mechanics, Thermodynamics, Organic chemistry, and organic chemistry lab.

What topics did you find the most difficult during your degree?

Although it may sound funny as a Chemical Engineer, I struggled the most with the chemistry courses. I enjoyed and did very well in most/all my engineering courses as they were a lot more math intensive, but I struggled with the conceptual parts of chemistry.

What line did you choose to focus during your degree? Why so?

Process Engineering. Although I had very little knowledge of what Chemical Engineer was as I started my college years, one of my first classes was a course called “Intro to Chemical Engineering”. This course introduced us to the very fundamental concepts, and it was there where I was fascinated by the beaty and art of the creation of a process that can take raw materials and transform them into a final product. I found the process of design so fun it was only further reinforced after interning at Exxon as a process designer. Determining what combinations of equipment is optimal to reach your desired product can be just as fun as solving your favorite puzzle as a kid.

Did you get your degree from your home country or did you go abroad?

Home Country (Immigrated to the US at the age of 11 during 8th grade from the Dominican Republic)

Did you have student jobs during or between your education? How did you get them? Where did you work? How did it help your education or future career?

The summers after my freshman and sophomore year, I did research in the ChemE department. I obtained this opportunity by networking with professors. But, after my Junior year, I interned with ExxonMobil in their Houston, Texas Campus. I earned this internship through Cornell's career fair. This is the role that made the most impact during my undergrad, as it exposed me to what real world engineering is, and it prepared me on what to focus for my post-graduation endeavors. As well, it permitted to get a return offer as a full time Process Design engineer for ExxonMobil.

What MBA will you be studying? How did you plan and recognise where you want to take your MBA?

I will be concentrating my MBA in the Entrepreneurship certificate at MIT Sloan. I made this decision because my long-term dream is to create/grow a technology startup to create a global impact and better the lives of all types of people. Yet, I believed I lacked the higher management and big-picture thinking skills required to drive impactful growth. Sloan was the perfect intersection between Technical and Management, being one of the best business school in the world, and the best engineering school. As I grow my non-technical skills, I want to ensure they always remain technically rooted.

Have you been preparing for your MBA entrance? Could you kindly tell a little about the process of applying and selecting MBA programs?

By networking! That is the biggest takeaways from MBA, is getting to know and network with other amazing individuals from around the world. All the preparations you take to apply to an MBA allows you to be ready once you are accepted to a program. The first step in applying to an MBA is deciding which program you want to pursue. With research, this can become a lot more apparent based on the school’s concentrations (Ex. Consulting, Finance, Management, etc.). Once you have decided on your programs, assuming you are already a college graduate with a few years of experience, the next hardest step is studying for the GMAT/GRE. Top programs are looking for top performers, so this is an important aspect of the application process that one has to be properly prepared for. Once that is completed, the remainder is putting your story together through cover letters, resumes and essays. My biggest tip is, have many eyes see over your applications. Peers and friends, have them provide perspective to ensure you show the best version of yourself on paper. And lastly. Be unique. Be yourself. That will be your secret to getting in to a top program.

Work Experience

What was your first job after graduation and how did you get it?

As a process designer in ExxonMobil. Got it after interning with the same company in the same group during my undergrad, the summer after my junior year.

Where and which industry do you work in? How long have you been in this industry?

I currently work in the Energy Industry (Renewables) and have been working in it for the last year. Started in Air Products as a Product Engineer, and currently working with a startup called Utility Global. My official title is Senior Process Engineer and Vice President of Business Development.

What is your daily work routine like? What do you do at your job?

Due to the nature of startups, I wear many hats, and my day to day really depends on the priorities for that day. On most days, I am doing heavy engineering work designing and working with vendors preparing to commercialize one of the units for Utility Global. On other days, I am assisting the CEO with investment meetings, or handling all pitching of the companies to potential investors and partners, and applying to a multitude of opportunities on the behalf of the company. My normal work hours are 7:30 AM to 4:00 PM, and after going through the morning meetings, I prioritize on which hat to wear for the majority of that day.

What are the typical tasks which you have to deal with?

A lot of external relationship management. Whether is with engineering companies, vendors, potential investors, potential partners, or more. So, I need to be able to quickly change my mindset from very detailed engineering focused, to sales/influencing big picture mode.

What hard and soft skills are the most important for your job?

Hard skills - Being able to pay attention to small details, being technical aware to ask the right questions, curiosity to go learn more.

Soft skills - Interpersonal skills to develop relationships, teamworking skill to create the best product, and the ability to have and bring fun to an organization.


You mentioned that Utility Global is a start-up? What does it do, if you could summarise a little about it?

Utility Global is a company looking to disrupt the global hydrogen market. Utility Global will provide hydrogen on a distributed basis on a cost competitive basis with centralized fossil fuel units, resulting on massive savings for consumers due to avoiding the logistics and shipping costs associated with hydrogen delivery. With this, Utility Global is planning to make hydrogen more accessible and desirable in the market, facilitating the growth of renewable energy worldwide.

What is the best thing about your job?

Being at Utility Global, a startup less than 2 years old with only 9 employees, the best part from an engineering side is how fun it is to solve problems never seen before in industry on a daily basis. From a Business development side, it is getting to interact with people equally as curious, interested, and passionate about renewables and the future of energy! It is fun and exciting, and all the employees are some of the smartest and most talented people around the world. Getting to interact with them is so rewarding on a daily basis.

Which topics from your degree do you use the most on the workplace?

Process engineering, as I am designing and constructing a commercial unit for this startup. This entails all the basic ChemE core courses, as I use all those classes (Fluids, Heat Transfer, etc.) to design different equipment.

How easy was it for you to change company and/or jobs if any?

Due to my vast experience from ExxonMobil and having a degree from Cornell University, it was relativelytransitioning jobs. So much that soon after getting a new job, I was quickly recruited for my current startup.

What are you future plans for your career? What does your current job allow you to do in future?

So, I will be obtaining my MBA at MIT Sloan while continuing to work part time starting this August of 2021. My goal is to gain the skills to take a startup to successful acquisition. I desire to stay with my current role to help, to the best of my abilities, Utility Globalfuture successes. Once Utility Globalbecomes successful, I will reevaluate available opportunities and take it from there!

Any suggestions for future graduates? Something they should be doing while they are still in university getting their degree.

GO HAVE FUN! Learn how to interact with all type of people and in all types of situations! If you pay attention in class, do all your work, and do well in your classes, you will have almost all the hard skills needed to succeed. The skills that will make you stand out from the rest are your soft skills, the ones that are developed outside of classes, whether it is in clubs, sports, fraternities, or other forms of social activity. So, balance your life while still in school, and you will greatly benefit once you graduate.

What skills should they focus on during university years? I believe, they should focus on the soft skills, as mentioned before.
Remember you work to live, not live to work. Whether in school or work, remember to have a work life balance, take care of your health, and you will end up being more successful at the end of the day. It may not be as simple as its sound, but this mentality will take you a lot farther more often than not.

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