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Meet Rob Motal '67
Posted 12/08/2017 03:30PM

Tell us how life has changed since you left SPX. I have learned to live every day to its fullest after cancer, snakebite, loss of air at depth while scuba diving, being in Venezuela during the presidential coup, big earthquakes and recently participating in the recovery efforts from the California wildfires. Married 37 years. Two wonderful children. 43 years with the same west coast oil company. Retired.

What college (s) did you attend and what was your major? I went to Rice after turning down a scholarship to CalTech. Received a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering and a Bachelors degree in Mathematics. Received the Outstanding Senior Engineering Student award.

What is the best/most rewarding part of your job? In my early years I most enjoyed developing new techniques to improve our design processes for refinery processing plants. In mid-career I focused on developing strategies for maximizing the success of our research and development efforts in alternative energy. My late career overseas forays were most enjoyable. I was an analyst/intelligence specialist and traveled to over 60 countries to better define business opportunities and negotiate with a variety of stakeholders: government ministries, politicians, other companies, research institutes, and the local populations. I really enjoyed meeting other cultures. Chevron just completed over $100 billion of plants that I championed for monetizing remote natural gas; now that is satisfying!

What are the biggest challenges you've faced in your career? Prioritizing time. I was determined to provide our children with plenty of parent face time and participation while being a good husband as well as pursuing all the rewarding challenges at work. Our children remain our best friends. It is also easy to become complacent and rest on your accomplishments instead of pursuing the next opportunity.

What advice would you give SPX students who are interested in an engineering career? Find out what skills and behaviors best serve engineers. You should enjoy math and the science of things and solving problems. You should enjoy working with others since today's projects are generally done in teams rather than individuals. Decide if you are an outdoor or indoor person. Some engineers spend their entire careers in an office/design setting while others are managing construction projects or operating process plants. Are you prepared to relocate frequently if you want to be a project manager? Do you know what branch of engineering you want? The quality of the engineering programs (civil, environmental, chemical, mechanical, electrical, etc.) and ultimate career paths (research, practical) vary within individual colleges so if you know which branch you want, look at the quality of that program when selecting a college. While there are excellent engineering schools in Texas, be open to going out of state in your choice of school.

Be prepared for continuing education as engineering continually evolves. When I graduated we used slide rules, graph paper, mimeograph machines, carbon copies, lots of pencils and erasers, landlines, computer punch cards, and hand calculations using formulas. Keyboards were found on pianos and accordions; monitors were those people standing around watching

students take tests.

What are your favorite memories of SPX? Football weekends. As a cheerleader this began on Saturdays and Sundays as we made new signs for the hallways, breakthrough signs for the football field and prepared the skits/program for the coming pep rally. Monday would start with ribbon selling. Fridays included the pep rallies, decorating the goal posts, perhaps a bus trip for away games, the football game and the post-game sock hop. I was incredibly lucky to work with two great squads in my junior/senior years. Since my cheerleading partners and I had the freshmen class, we also had the opportunity to work with the freshmen cheerleaders. I love all these people and cherish those times immensely.

What important lessons did you take away from SPX? Don't ignore other important aspects of life in your passionate pursuit of what you enjoy. Take time to make friends. Develop deep friendships. Be open to challenges and opportunities.

What were you involved in as a student at SPX? I was a cheerleader for two years when we had a co-ed squad. Compared to other schools which were mostly all-female squads we pioneered doing more physically demanding and challenging routines. I also joined the Debate team which helped me greatly with reasoning, discussion and public presentation.

How did your SPX education prepare you for your career? SPX gave me a solid academic foundation for entering college, the confidence that one can produce excellent results if one puts in the work and practice prioritizing one's time.

What advice would you share with new SPX graduates? Understand what you like to do and pursue it passionately. Learn from mistakes. Be flexible. Remember that everyone is a different individual; take time to understand their thinking. It will go a long way toward resolving conflicts, building support and improving the end results. Develop a financial plan and follow it. Stay connected.

What does it mean to you to be an SPX alumni? Pride in coming from a school that follows Christian values and provides high quality education while being open to all.

Which SPX teacher made the most lasting impact on you? Sister Chrysostom who helped guide me with college selection as well as made both Physics and advanced Math enjoyable. Finding the sciences and math easy influenced my choice of profession.

What organizations are you involved with? I am an assistant scoutmaster with our local Boy Scout troop. I am also on our county's Search and Rescue team.

What do you like to do in your spare time? Landscaping, reading, getting outdoors, solving puzzles, woodcarving, playing with our grandchild. We have a cabin near Lake Tahoe with a 30-40 foot elevation drop from the top to the bottom of the property. I am building rock walls to terrace the property with walking paths and mini-gardens.

In October California faced some of the worst wildfires it's ever seen, tell us how you helped those in need? Our Search and Rescue team was called out to help with California's wildfires north of San Francisco. My particular assignment was walking through neighborhoods burned to the ground locating valuables (safes, guns, jewelry, etc.) for later pickup by the local police to deter looting. It is a sobering experience walking through a foot thick blanket of white ash that once was a 2 or 3 story home and locating bedrooms (children's bedrooms had twin size bedspring carcasses, master bedrooms typically queen/king size), offices by file cabinet remains, kitchens by pottery fragments and appliance shells, garages by car frames. Finding dropped stuffed animals or photo albums left behind reminds one just how little time people had to escape the fires. What made it all so rewarding was seeing all the handmade signs on the route to/from the burn sites thanking the first responders, firemen and police who were helping those in need. I would encourage others to join their local SAR teams; our team has about 20% who are in high school or college so it is not too early to join.

811 West Donovan Street Houston TX, 77091-5643
713.692.3581

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