KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Western Michigan University alumnus Robert Repke had initially directed his career aspirations toward a musical field. “I was planning to major in trumpet performance,” he says. Instead, he decided to march to an entirely different professional tune, as evidenced by his work as an engineer for Consumers Energy.
Repke graduated with a chemical engineering degree in 2018, having also minored in chemistry and mathematics, and then went directly into a 2-year rotational apprenticeship for the Michigan utility company’s natural gas and generation operations. Western’s chemical engineering program, along with career stability and his affinity for STEM subjects, helped lure him away from the idea of becoming a professional musician, he explains.
“I love problem solving, chemistry and mathematics,” Repke says. “So, I switched majors before I enrolled at WMU. Western has a pretty unique engineering program, offering both chemical and paper engineering,” the Galesburg, Michigan native notes.
His studies weren’t always easy, but the courses, and professors he learned from, challenged and encouraged him to persevere, he said. Fluid Dynamics, Heat Transfer and Process Control II courses, and the overall robust career preparation and experimental opportunities that Western's Chemical and Paper Engineering Department offers help Repke in his job at Consumers Energy.
A Foot in the Door
Following his freshman year, and “with no real experience,” Repke says he landed an internship with Consumers Energy. Repke would stay with the utility company for another three summers, gaining experience in four different departments that all contribute to delivering energy to Michigan residents. Those departments included Scheduling and Planning, Distribution Engineering Planning, Gas Measurement Engineering and System Integrity.
As a college student, Repke found himself working on crucial elements such as checking for gas leaks and cracks in pipes, and measuring gas flow; he said the latter internships went hand-in-hand with many lessons he learned on campus, which mirrored 73% of respondents for WMU’s recent post-graduation activity survey who said they had an internship, co-op, practicum or field experience where they applied what they were learning in the classroom.
Repke is now a part of Consumers Energy's Engineering Entry Program, where he will experience four positions in two years. So far, he has conducted data analysis for natural gas systems and operations planning that helps forecast and regular how much natural gas is in Michigan, and was a project engineer working with regulator replacement projects, all for the sake of ensuring that Michigan’s consumers stay warm and reach optimal productivity. He is now a project engineer at the J.H. Campbell Generating Facility in West Olive, Michigan.
Helping him succeed as a student and as an intern were a handful of professors, Repke says. He characterizes Dr. Raja Aravamuthan as “a phenomenal professor” who amplifies learning in memorable ways. Assistant professor Dr. James Springstead was also instrumental in being readily available to offer additional help, adds Repke, who also minored in chemistry and mathematics.
Repke, who is in the process of earning a Professional Engineering license, says he doesn’t know yet what engineering area he’ll choose when his rotation concludes, but that he’s found he really likes being a project engineer. “The utility industry is pretty broad. There are so many different kinds of jobs to choose from,” he says.
Repke is also planning on earning an MBA at WMU's Haworth College of Business.
Still, he adds that music will always remain a key part of his life. “One day, I’d like to join an orchestra or concert band” as a trumpeter, he maintains. The involvement will ensure that he continues to pursue his diversified passions, and will provide balance to the scientific and technical side of his work.
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