Becoming a Process Engineer: Meet Zach Kelly

In this post, Zach Kelly, a process engineer for Ahlstrom Filtration, shares his story with LabJourneys about his current job as a process engineer and his aspirations to become a production manager. Zach is constantly pushing himself to his limits in order to reach his goals.  After meeting Zach, you can instantly tell he is energetic and his positive attitude is highly contagious. Zach’s attitude sparked me to wonder what could a group of highly positive workers accomplish? Unfortunately, it often only takes one ‘Negative Nancy’ to pull down a group of highly positive people, especially if that person is the boss.  Lastly, if you ever get a chance to meet him, be sure to ask him for a sample of his homemade deer jerky. It is delicious! Here is ten up and ten down with Mr. Kelly.

What is your current position? How long have you been at this position?                           

For the last year and half I have been employed as a process engineer with Ahlstrom Filtration.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up about 30 minutes northwest of Gettysburg, PA in small town called Aspers.

How has your upbringing shape you?

I grew up dirt poor and my parents constantly reminded me that I needed to do better. Therefore, my upbringing has shaped me to strive for the highest level of excellence and motivated me to be as successful as I possibly can. At work, I aim to put more effort than what I am compensated.

What early influences help cultivate your interest in science?

From an early age, I became interested in science by the mere fact that science was the only field that challenged me. Call it foolishness or outright stubbornness, but I shy away from taking the easy route. Personally, I enjoy pushing myself and gravitated toward science because of the challenges it presented.

What was your experience like trying gain employment into the industry after college?

The time immediately following college was extremely difficult to gain employment.  The battle with recruiters, the constant spam in your inbox from suspect offers, and the overwhelming competition made me actually consider joining the army. I just felt like giving up.  After I humbled myself and realized because you have a degree does not mean you are ready to start out on top. After searching for 6 months I finally landed my first job. Then when I decided to leave my first employer I couldn’t find a job for almost 7 to 8 months.  It was almost a disaster. My account was near empty and my school loans were kicking in.  I had to work extra hard to find employment.

Kelly_Hunting Picture

When Zack is not busy working on solving problems at the plant he spends a lot of his free time bow hunting.

What does a typical day entail?

To be honest, each day is different and I don’t have a typical routine.  I’m working my dream job.  Every day is new, exciting, and full of infinite situations with varying degrees of problems needing attention. I would describe a normal day consisting with a meeting or two in the morning, followed by some database updates, and onto the chaos of paper machine problem solving. All this takes place while I am trying to work with my production folks to help them keep up with their demands of the day.



What are some aspects of your job you do not like to do? Most rewarding?

I don’t like having my time wasted by others trying to abuse my time and skills.  That’s about the only aspect of my job I don’t like.

I love that I get to problem solve.  I work with a variety of engineers such as mechanical, industrial, chemical, and even software engineers, as well as other scientists. I have to coordinate with them about different process changes or enhancements.  I find it to be extremely rewarding fixing problems every day.  I’m the guy you come to when you need answers.  My job commands that I know a lot of technical knowledge and make big decisions on the floor that can potentially cost the company thousands of dollars or save them thousands of dollars. For example, I caught a defect in our product which would have cost a lot to fix.  It’s an incredible feeling when I have been handed a supposedly ‘impossible task’ and I accomplish it.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

I’m currently being shaped and molded into something I’m not right now.  It’s a growing process which brings along a lot frustration.  My boss is developing me what I’m aspiring to become.  What is challenging is being pushed past all limits I know about myself, and being wrong all the time! In this regard, my boss is a fabulous mentor.

Who is your role model, and why?

Currently my role model is…(don’t laugh)… Arnold Schwarzenegger.   He has this rule to success that I can’t get out of my head —‘Trust yourself’.  He is my role model because he paved the way for an entirely different way of body building and then launched it into a successful acting career.  Everyone told him he couldn’t do it yet the man trusted himself and became a legend in body building and Hollywood.

What advice would you give to a young student deciding whether or not to embark in a career in the sciences?

I would say to embark in a career in sciences if you feel a passion for it.  Make sure it’s something you want to do every day and wake up in the morning excited to do.  You should embark on a career that allows you to be you and provides the opportunity to make use of your talents and aspirations. I would also like to add that a great way into get into the science industry would be to find an entry-level quality control position. It allows you to get your feet wet and has the potential to serve as a spring board to move around within the company.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

I would like to share one of my favorite quotes from Bruce Lee, “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup.  You put water in the bottle, it becomes the bottle.  You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot.  Now water can flow or it can crash.  Be water my friend.” I really enjoy this quote because it emphasizes about being flexible. If you are really adaptive, it does not matter what situation you find yourself in.



Dr. Blog

Dr. Blog holds a PhD in chemistry and draws on his years of industrial and life experience to offer honest career advice for the advancement of young scientists. Follow us at #labjourneys.