March 20, 2009

Edward A. Schmitt, a 1969 Chemical Engineering (ChE) graduate who served as Chairman, President and CEO of Georgia Gulf from 1998 until his retirement in July 2008, reflected on his experience at LSU. “My ChE degree is the basis for my career of nearly forty years in the chemical industry,” said Schmitt. “I discovered that the uniqueness of a ChE degree from LSU in 1969 gave the holder a leg up in the chemical industry. The curricula stressed unit operations of chemical processes, which coincided with the surge of chemical companies moving into Louisiana to build new plants on the Mississippi River. LSU ChE grads received multiple “top dollar” job offers.”

A native of Baton Rouge and a 1964 graduate of Istrouma High School, Schmitt worked through multiple obstacles to reach his degree goal at LSU. “After leaving Southeastern LA University on a baseball scholarship and majoring in Chemistry, I transferred to LSU and remained in Chemistry, but realized that I enjoyed the application of science and mathematics more than the theory,” stated Schmitt. “I also discovered that engineers were being offered higher salaries after graduation. Using my degree to get a good job was an important goal, and it was this mindset which led me into Chemical Engineering. Meanwhile I was working my way through school since I no longer had the scholarship. Working after classes didn’t allow much time to participate in many of the non-scholastic activities, and I even lived at home, since I was from Baton Rouge. I can honestly say that I did not go to LSU for the fun and enjoyment. For me, the experience was strictly a business proposition.”

Following in the reflections of many engineering alumni, Schmitt stressed the difficulty of the curriculum, but credits the faculty for providing clarity and challenges in the subject material, explaining “One day during the fall semester of 1968, I ran into Dr. Paul Murrill, asking him for a minute of his time. I explained that it seemed as if I had been going to school forever and was wondering when I would be able to graduate. He spoke to me as if he had known me the entire time I had spent in Chemical Engineering, and I don’t ever recall talking to him but that one time. We walked into his office. He pulled my records from the file, and began looking over my transcript. Then he said, ‘Heck Ed, you can graduate in May. You just need to take the senior class project.’ That moment had to be one of the happiest during my life at LSU. I graduated with a BS ChE in May 1969 and started work in June with ALCOA.”

After graduation, Schmitt and his wife, Karen Wax of Denham Springs, moved to Bauxite, Arkansas where he began his career as a process engineer with ALCOA. His early career found Schmitt working in a process and production engineering capacity to design and install new production units, start up new plants and improve the operations of existing plants. Later, he was promoted to supervisory and management positions of other engineers, production units, entire plants and chemical complexes, working for three chemical companies: ALCOA, Allied Chemical Corp. and Georgia Gulf Corp. Schmitt reflected “The last twenty nine years with Georgia Gulf were the most rewarding for both my financial situation and my career. I retired this year as CEO and Chairman of the Board of Georgia Gulf. Unequivocally, none of this would have happened or been possible, if not for my ChE degree and education at LSU.”

Schmitt expanded on his LSU experience “The education and degree I earned at LSU taught me much about virtue: Dedication, commitment, determination, teamwork. My degree in ChE was the first unique achievement of my life, and it meant something, not only to me, but to others in my family; for example, I was the first in my family to get a college degree. Two of my four brothers graduated later from LSU in ChE. I was a kid when I started college, but when I graduated, I had a purpose for my future. For me to get a college education, I had to take charge of my life. If I needed help, I had to initiate the effort. Studying engineering taught me logical thinking and to think before one acts. One of the best compliments I receive from friends and family to this day is, ‘you think like an engineer’.” There are so many options around your home to apply the engineering approach to repair or improve them. My ChE education has saved me a lot of money on service and repair costs around the house.”

Schmitt is a strong supporter of his alma mater, serving as a Forever LSU Campaign Cabinet member, College of Engineering (COE) Dean’s Advisory Board member and a member of the ChE Forever LSU Campaign Steering Committee. He also secured a Georgia Gulf Distinguished Professorship for the COE. In 1997, he was honored as a recipient of the LSU College of Engineering Hall of Distinction. Recently Schmitt gave a million dollar gift for the new Chemical Engineering Building fund, propelling the College closer to meeting our goals with the FOREVER LSU Campaign. In its new projected home, the Cain Department of Chemical Engineering will triple its physical space in keeping with first-class facilities of the University of Mississippi, Auburn, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, and the University of Arkansas. Schmitt’s gift toward the new building will also help ensure that ChE at LSU attracts and recruits the best and brightest students, postgraduates, and new faculty. When asked why he felt compelled to support LSU’s future engineering students, he responded “The simple answer is my education and degree as an LSU engineer provided opportunity and opened doors for me to enjoy a successful career and to provide a good life for my family. I feel indebted and obliged to share this fortune with those who made it possible.”

“I recognize that expectations from future engineers are changing, and LSU and the College of Engineering must change to meet these new requirements. While I dare to predict what these changes may be, I know that financial support will provide resources, which can be used to make the future engineering graduates of LSU unique from other engineers,” said Schmitt.

Schmitt’s wife, Karen, is a 1968 graduate of LSU in education and later earned an MS Ed. from LSU. They have two daughters, Laura Lea and Mary Elizabeth, who both received Masters of Education in 1997 from LSU. Schmitt reflected “Maybe most important is that graduating from college caused me to insist that my children’s education was not complete until they graduated from college.”

Article by Mimi LaValle, LSU College of Engineering, 225-578-5706, mlavall@lsu.edu

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