Student art meets industry at BP

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BP maintenance engineer Jeff Grimm (right) and maintenance manager Ricardo Valbuena speak to Hammond Academy of Science and Technology students at the Whiting (Ind.) Refinery on June 6, 2012. | Anthony D. Alonzo~For Sun-Times Media

dt.common.streams.StreamServer (1) With the student-made sculpture “Cultivating Tomorrow, Today” in the foreground, Hammond Academy of Science and Technology students and other guests listen to BP Whiting Refinery officials speak at the dedication. | Anthony D. Alonzo~For Sun-Times Media

At the BP Whiting Refinery, a recent meeting of engineers and Hammond students showed that art and industry could mix better than the proverbial oil and water.

Several Hammond Academy of Science and Technology eighth-graders attended the dedication of a sculpture they created and an on-site career fair. With a backdrop of refinery flare towers and petroleum storage tanks, the young artists and oil industry workers gathered on a grassy knoll near the HAST students’ contribution to the BP refinery’s beautification campaign: the outdoor artwork “Cultivating Tomorrow, Today.”

“The entire idea of public art allows BP to go into the community and create a dialogue,” said supervising artist Deborah Landry. “They were able to make the kids knowledgeable about (science-related) subjects and how those subjects can inspire them to support themselves and what jobs they could get.”

Adjacent to the BP visitor center, the sculpture appears to grow from a concrete embankment. Like oversized blades of grass, the art adds to the greenery while reminding students of STEM jobs ­— those in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

South Shore Arts, a local not-for-profit group, selected Landry as the local artist to lead work sessions with students at the HAST. She said “a lot of science goes into” creating a sculpture.

At the heart of “Cultivating Tomorrow, Today” is Styrofoam. Rebar was added for reinforcement, then a fiberglass mesh provided a foundation for a concrete mask.

“In the HAST, 240 kids were working on the tiles,” Landry said of the more than 400 fired façade components. “(The sculpture) will hold up for however long they can stand it, visually.”

Each tile square bears the etched design of an energy- or technology-related theme. HAST student Nicolas Martinez, 15, said his contribution reflected two of modern life’s necessities that are powered by fossil fuels.

“I did a light bulb and plug-in (socket),” Martinez said. “That really reminds me of science and technology. It’s good; it makes up what today’s society is. Technology helps us better complete things we need done.”

Brad Etlin, director of government and public affairs for BP America, was impressed by the weeks of effort shown by the youth. He helped organize volunteers during the artwork’s construction. BP provided funding for the sculpture, which is visible from Indianapolis Boulevard.

Etlin also invited technical staff members to meet students at the dedication. Eric Woodard, a recent addition to the BP staff, reminded the youth that nothing would work without power ­— no Xboxes or iPhones. Maintenance engineer Jeff Grimm said jobs like his pay well.

Ricardo Valbuena, who oversees maintenance at the nation’s seventh-largest refinery, said more young scientists are needed.

“It is getting more difficult to find people in the U.S. with (a scientific) background,” Valbuena said. “We are active in programs like this to encourage students and schools to promote science and technology.”

 
 

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