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Chemical engineering alumnus enjoys challenge of diverse jobs

A man sitting in a chair with his legs crossed.

Dave Cockrill, BS ChE ’85, says he’s always learning on the job, and his involvement with the Chemical Engineering Department’s Industrial Advisory Board allows him to share his expertise working in industry with future gradautes.

During his 25 years with Bayer CropScience Dave Cockrill has worked in a variety of positions that required different skill sets — and that’s exactly how he likes it.

“I’ve had a career where I was constantly learning,” Cockrill said. “If I get to a point where I feel I’ve mastered a job, I tend to get impatient to try something different.”

Cockrill, an alumnus of the College of Engineering who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1985, is currently the first plant manager at a plant in the Kansas City area. He actually worked at the same plant as a summer intern and right after college before going to Louisiana State University to get his master of science.

Cockrill credits his education at the University of Missouri with instilling solid fundamentals and an emphasis on teamwork.

“I could launch into grad school and hit the ground running,” he said. “Back then, just like now, teamwork is still critical in every field.”

The Kansas City plant where Cockrill has been since 2007 produces herbicides and fungicides.

“There are a lot of chemical reactions and unit operations in our plant. Almost every unit operation you study in school, really,” Cockrill said.

After graduate school, Cockrill worked as a plant engineer — a job that required an unfamiliar skill set. “Even after working for close to two years and going to grad school, I felt like I didn’t know anything all over again,” Cockrill said.

Cockrill has also worked in a multi-purpose plant in Germany, where new process start-ups occurred every few weeks. “You transition from lab to pilot scale all the way to production scale,” Cockrill said. “Every month or three you’re engineering a different product.”

At the plant in Kansas City, he’s worked in process development, which brings several challenges in getting a product ready for full-scale manufacturing. He said he enjoyed the responsibility of designing the layout of the facility and sketching out how the process would work.

The complicated reactions, significantly altered by the scaling-up, necessitated some specific set-up of the production process. Sometimes, Cockrill said, it was difficult to communicate the importance of that to the team at the plant.

“Things rarely go exactly right the first time,” Cockrill said.

Despite challenges, Cockrill succeeded in process development and continued to thrive at Bayer CropScience. He said remaining with one company for 25 years may seem unusual now, but he’s stayed because he likes the company’s “philosophy on people.”

Cockrill said he enjoys returning to the MU campus because it gives him the opportunity to interact with students. “I really like mentoring young engineers,” he said.

Cockrill had his own mentor while at the College of Engineering. Because of his relationship with Thomas Marrero, a professor of chemical engineering who is still on the faculty, he agreed to serve as a member of the Industrial Advisory Board for the Chemical Engineering Department.

“I got the chance to give him a little payback,” Cockrill said. “He helped me out a lot when I was here. He’s still doing that for students.”

Cockrill’s best advice for future engineers is to figure out what they want to be doing in five years. He also encourages them to visit a chemical plant to see some of the unit operations they’ve learned about play out in real life.

“If you’re thinking about what you really want to do next you’re in a minority and if you vocalize that, you’re in a sub-minority,” Cockrill said. “If the boss knows you want a position,” he added, “it’s more likely that you’ll be considered if you’ve already talked about it.