Plant manager, ExxonMobil Baton Rouge Polyolefins
(Photo by Marie Constantin)
Many girls and young women are discouraged from pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math-related fields. Angela Zeringue was not one of them.
“I never really thought of STEM being something that was male-dominated,” she recalls. “I think it shocked me when I got to college and realized it really is.”
Growing up, her parents and teachers were supportive of her interests, and she originally thought she might major in chemistry. But a scholarship to study at Tulane University’s engineering school led to a career in chemical engineering.
Her career with ExxonMobil began as a summer intern at the Baton Rouge plastics plant in 1987, where she worked for 12 years before moving to the company’s local chemical plant as a department manager. She served as a maintenance manager for both the chemical plant and the company’s refinery and as engineering services manager for the Baton Rouge area before being named manager of the polyolefins plant. There, she oversees the creation of high-density polyethylene and polypropylene, which ends up in milk jugs, shampoo bottles, diapers and rust-resistant fuel tanks, among other products.
Since Zeringue took on her current job in 2010, a $150 million modernization program has been completed at the plant. Control systems dating from the 1960s were replaced with state-of-the-art technology.
A “landfill gas” recycling project—the first of its kind for ExxonMobil—also was initiated before her arrival but completed on her watch. Methane produced naturally by an East Baton Rouge Parish-owned landfill is captured and shipped by pipeline to the polyolefins plant, where it replaces a portion of the natural gas used by the plant’s boilers. The project is cost-effective for the plant, environmentally beneficial, and provides a new revenue source for the city-parish, ExxonMobil says.
The polyolefins plant has won numerous safety awards, including the National American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers Distinguished Safety Platinum Award for 2014, of which Zeringue is particularly proud.
“That’s a real testimony to the conviction of the team here,” she says, noting that the award recognizes both safety and environmental performance.
Beyond her work and family, Zeringue says she is passionate about educational outreach. For example, she works with the Pre-engineering Magnet Academy at Scotlandville Middle School. She also volunteers with programs meant to encourage young girls in particular to take an interest in STEM fields.
“I really think that middle school age is critical,” she says, “being able to reach students early and give them the opportunity to be exposed to role models. … We have a lot of stereotypes in our society that aren’t necessarily attracting young women to STEM-related careers.”
Being a woman in a male-dominated field has never bothered her, perhaps because she has always had a strong support network. When mentoring young women interested in a similar career path, she tries to help them build their competency and self-confidence.
“While they may still occasionally find themselves one of only a few women in a room, if they bring their confidence and their capabilities to a team or situation, they will earn respect as a colleague and a professional,” she says.
Zeringue recalls an experienced employee, upon meeting her, his new supervisor, remarking that he “had socks older than me.” She says the two of them ended up working well together and learning a lot from each other, and when he retired several years later, she was “delighted” to be invited to the party.
Points of Influence
-Oversees a workforce of more than 300 people at the polyolefins plant, which just won the National American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers Distinguished Safety Platinum Award for 2014.
-Works to encourage young people, especially girls, to enter STEM fields.