In 2018, with her first child on the way, Summer Barnhill felt inspired to complete her GED in hopes of forging a better future for her daughter. Now the San Jacinto College student is looking forward to graduation this May.
"I had worked in industrial settings since I was 18 as a fire watch, in scaffolding, industrial painting, and pipefitting," Barnhill said. "I knew that a job in operations was the way to go."
Living in La Porte at the time, Barnhill drove by the construction site of the Center for Petrochemical, Energy, & Technology at the Central Campus each day.
"I knew what the facility was going to be, and I saw the glycol unit going up and thought, 'I really want to go there,'" she said.
In 2019, after years of working as a contractor, Barnhill started working full time for Inouii Alloy Fabrication as a safety manager. The company supported her decision to return to school and offered her a flexible work schedule.
"I could have never done it without them," she said.
She started taking courses in spring 2020 just as the College began altered operations due to COVID-19. Suddenly, her hands-on labs moved online.
"The hybrid learning was hard because the CPET facility has so many awesome hands-on training platforms that we had limited access to," Barnhill said. "It was tough, but we made the most of the time we had during our lab hours."
In October 2021, Barnhill joined CPET's PTAC Club, which helps process technology students find jobs, scholarships, and support. By December, she ran for office and took over as club president in January 2022.
"When I took over, there were only about 40 members of our club, and now we have about 200," she said. "I wanted to take a hard look at the work we were trying to accomplish. We needed officers who could build up their fellow students, help with promotions, and create events that would truly help to better our student experience."
With only weeks left before graduation, Barnhill already has a job lined up as an operator at LyondellBasell.
"LyondellBasell was my No. 1 pick," she said. "I put all of my eggs in one basket with that one, and it paid off. I knew I wanted to work there after meeting David Gosnay at a job fair last year. Hearing him speak about the industry was inspiring."
Barnhill's current employer couldn't be prouder of her accomplishments.
"We pride ourselves on being a company that sets our employees up for their future," said V. Giovanna Hutchinson, CEO, Inouii Alloy Fabrication. "Summer has worked hard every day to achieve this accomplishment, and we know she deserves to be part of the LyondellBasell team. She is an example of perseverance for everyone at Inouii Alloy."
Barnhill's future looks bright as she and her wife, Skylar Airhart, will both graduate this May — Barnhill with an Associate of Applied Science degree in process technology and Airhart with her barber conversion occupational certificate to add to her A.A.S. degree in cosmetology. The couple have a 3-year-old daughter and a son due at the end of May.
"Through my training at San Jac and with this new job, I'm preparing for my family's future," Barnhill said. "I grew up in poverty, and I'd like to ensure my children's futures look different. Breaking generational barriers and setting up opportunities for them that I never had is priceless."