Multiple moves contribute to alumnus’ life education
The proverbial rolling stone gathered no moss, but for chemical engineering alumnus Bill Herring, who spent most of his life moving from place-to-place, the opposite is true. Each move — first required by his father’s job, then his own — allowed him to increase his education, his qualifications and his life experiences.
Even before he was born, Herring’s connection to science and the University of Missouri began. His father, Bill Sr., attended MU and studied geology before the outbreak of WWII. The senior Herring married a woman from his hometown two weeks before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. That marriage plus an older sister born the next year, Herring said, kept his father away from the frontlines for the first two years of the war. When he finally did join the Army as a Military Police officer, Herring’s father worked undercover gathering intelligence for the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) in the Pacific for the remainder of the war. After his assignment ended, he was allowed to choose where he would next go, electing to oversee command of the Allied POW camp in Hawaii and remaining there the next five years. Herring was born in September 1947.
“If you’ve seen any World War II movies that show the bombing of Pearl Harbor and that V-shaped mountain pass they show the Japanese flying through— at the base of those mountains was where I was born,” he said.
Herring had always been interested in science, taking on extra credit projects in high school that were more fun than work for him and experimenting at home. He described an improvisational rocket made from a Vicks inhaler tube.
“My dad was a marksman, so there was always gunpowder around,” he laughed. “I developed a penchant for pyrotechnics.
“I took Gilbert’s chemistry set to a whole new level.”
Herring said by the time he entered college, his family had moved 23 times. He started out in Rider College in Lawrenceville, N.J., studying chemistry.
“I stayed with my mother when my dad went to Vietnam for his first tour,” Herring said. “They didn’t have chemical engineering, just chemistry and math.”
Looking for a university with more opportunity, Herring decided to continue his education elsewhere. MU was a natural fit.
“Both of my parents are from Brunswick, Mo., and their parents, and their parents — it goes back to 1834.”
Herring joined Mizzou’s ROTC program and was commissioned as an officer in 1969.
“Since I was in a technical field, I was allowed to continue my education,” Herring said. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1970 and his master’s in 1972; shortly after, he entered active duty at Fort Bliss in the Air Defense Artillery Branch.
Herring was placed in the Army Reserves, which enabled him to start a career with Celanese, now a Fortune 500 company that manufactures everything from industrial adhesives to textiles and products with food and beverage applications. There, he spent two years working on fibers and films while performing various duties for the Reserves until 1976 and remaining in the inactive reserves as a captain. By then, he had gone to work for Avery-Dennison, a job that required five relocations as he was promoted through the company. Polymer use in the medical industry flourished, as did the company and Herring’s career. In his 20 years spent there, the company developed numerous high & special performance products, including reflective sheeting for traffic signs, the adhesive for Band-Aids and wound-care and transdermal drug patches.
He worked briefly for CFC International and Illinois Tool Works before becoming the group director of technology for the ITW Security & Brand Identity Group, a collection of companies with more than $400 million in annual sales. In this job, Herring collaborates with 32 ITW units operating in 17 different countries.
His jobs for CFC and ITW allowed him to finally set root in one location. He’s lived in his current house for the last 18 years — the longest he’s lived anywhere — and has used his free time to ride his motorcycle and amass a more than 300-piece guitar collection. He plans to retire on June 6, 2014.
A Distinguished Fellow in the ITW Patent Society, Herring also has found time to join civic, community and professional engineering organizations, such as the Society of Plastics Engineers. He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Chemical Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni and is a 15-year member and current chairman of the Chemical Engineering Department’s Industrial Advisory Board (IAB).
Herring said he enjoys his time meeting with students and recent alumni as a member of the IAB. He said the two pieces of advice he stresses most are to never stop learning and to take advantage of new opportunities. Chemical engineers, he said, have a plethora of opportunities to pursue in many companies and industries.
“I like to say that ChemE’s are ‘ChemE-leons,’” he said.