The following article was printed in the PCC News on January 30, 2003. Additional profiles are also available.
Massive semiconductor project draws alum to ShanghaiWritten by Mark Evertz
Scott Best is going places.
The former Portland Community College mechanical engineering student has been laying the groundwork in Shanghai, China since February on a project that will not only be the biggest job of his life, but the biggest project in the semiconductor industry as well.
Despite being involved in the largest silicon wafer cleanroom project the world has ever seen, in a country not known as conducive to American business practices, Best is remarkably calm.
He said the problem-solving skills attained at PCC and his measured approach to managing projects learned on the job give him the tools to keep his cool.
PCC gave me the self-confidence to face the challenges I've come across in this industry, he said. It gave me a common-sense confidence.
And the classes gave me the ability to examine a problem, understand it, translate it and maintain the confidence required to follow it through to action, he added.
As an assistant project manager for Taikisha LTD, a Japan-based engineering and design firm, Best will help supervise the architectural design of a 500,000-square-foot cleanroom for a large U.S. computer manufacturer.
Best noted that the leap from PCC to China might not have happened if it weren't for the unlucky break for a friend.
When his friend broke a leg in 1997, Best got a phone call to fill in as a project manager at KSA America in Hillsboro until the leg healed. Best, then a mechanical engineering student at the college's Sylvania Campus, signed on.
They told me I'd fill in for about two or three months in 1997, said Best, now a project manager for Taikisha, LTD, the Japanese parent company with ties to KSA America. Five years later and I'm still with them. It's been great.
Don't think ill of Best for snagging his friend's job. The friend came back after the injury to KSA, then found a more lucrative job abroad with another company.
Best said that it has all worked out for him, but admitted that it was more than a few years in the making. The 39-year-old Idaho native moved to Portland in his 20s to be near his sister, but without much of a plan for himself. He worked as a manager at a grocery store and waited for that light bulb to light up the one that would illuminate his path to success. When that didn't happen, he sought direction by throwing himself into classes here and there at Portland Community College, starting in 1990.
I really didn't know what I wanted to do so I just started taking classes, he said. Along the way, I met people in the Mechanical Engineering Technology program and decided it was my calling.
Now, about five years removed from the engineering labs of PCC, Best is poised to make his mark on one of the largest projects in the semiconductor industry. The massive cleanroom project brought Best to Shanghai last February and will likely keep him there for at least the next year or two.
The move to China hasn't been without its fair share of challenges, including getting used to the cuisine, traveling throughout the country without a lay of the land or language and navigating the government-controlled business structure. Upon arrival in China, Best had little knowledge of the language, which left him in a few long cab rides.
I speak it well enough to get a cold beer, that's about it, joked Best. You reach a point where you just have to have faith.
Doing business in the Communist country takes a little getting used to as well.
Not many things are actually documented and the policies in place, well, not many people know what they are, he said. I spend a lot of time asking government bodies how to proceed on something and not really getting an answer. It can be frustrating.
Best also said that he had to get used to the more social nature of business deals in China. You need to be ready to cement deals out on the town, not in an office.
It is done at night over drinks in place similar to a Karaoke bar, he said. If, as a manager of a project, you do not go out at night and meet, it is almost an insult.
I don't know if I could do a regular job anymore, Best added. What I'm doing now is so challenging and fun. I think I'd be bored otherwise.
Best shrugged off praise for his accomplishments from former teachers who came by to see him during a trip back to campus in October before returning to China.
Man, this is too much for me, he said, blushing. I'm just a construction guy. It's the instructors, mentors and counselors who deserve the recognition, according to Best.
I don't think I've ever met teachers who were more dedicated to fulfilling their duties as instructors, he said. They will work as hard as they need to get you to understand.
If I could give one point to your future students, Best remarked, "It would be that if I can be in charge of the largest cleanroom project in the world, so can any PCC engineering tech student."
Next up on the learning curve for Best is absorbing more of the Chinese way of life and culture, and maybe a few classes in the Mandarin dialect of Chinese.
Every day in China is an education, he said.
A Tinkerer Becomes A Visionary
As a boy, Ted Mercer, senior design engineer in the Chassis Group at Freightliner, wanted to see how mechanical things worked. He started tinkering while he worked on farms. That curiosity brought him to PCC’s Civil and Mechanical Engineering Technology and General Engineering programs.
"They teach you how to learn and they flat out care," he says. He felt well prepared when he continued his education at the Oregon Institute of Technology where he completed his bachelors degree in mechanical engineering technology.
At Freightliner, his nine-person team is responsible for chassis design for the trucks of the future. "I’m the visionary but my team makes me successful. I like the challenge of new ideas. We head for the direction and find a happy medium."
Road to Success Paved in Asphalt for Quality Assurance Technician
Barbara Worbington began her career as a quality assurance technician for the Oregon Department of Transportation after graduating from PCC’s Civil and Mechanical Engineering Technology program. At first, her days were filled specialized training classes that ODOT paid for. Now she tests concrete, aggregate, asphalt and soils, and makes sure the samples she takes are correct, meeting specifications for the job. Worbington enjoys the variety of being outside and in the lab. Being a certified technician means that she will be in demand on projects all over the country where transportation technicians are needed.
"I want to keep learning. Book work, paperwork, lab work, and testing have to be to the letter because important decisions are made based on a tech’s results," she says. "This is a great opportunity. Now I’m working on the Hwy 217 – I 5 interchange redesign and the Ross Island Bridge project. If I can do it as a single mom, anyone can. I’ve earned my own home!"
From Single Mom on Welfare to Lead Lab Technician
Karrie Eixenberger figured she had two years to get a job. After investigating several programs at PCC where she could pursue her interest in engineering, she decided the Civil and Mechanical Engineering Technology program looked like it had the best earning potential.
At AGRA Earth and Environmental, Eixenberger is responsible for testing soil, asphalt, concrete and aggregate. "The samples I run help engineers decide if a building site is safe from landslides and pollutants." Clients she works with include the Oregon Department of Transportation and the City of Portland.
She enjoys her work so much that she plans to continue taking engineering courses and maybe work in management one day.
Injured Construction Worker Finds New Career
Dirk Swanson faced an uncertain future. He was injured while doing construction work. After recovering, he decided to enter the Civil and Mechanical Engineering Technology (CMET) program at PCC to prepare for the management side of construction, a career shift that made sense to him.
He chose PCC’s program because it "offered the best bang for the buck. It provided just what I needed and gave me lots of options. Every class was relevant. I knew I could do any job that came to me."
As an assistant project manager for Temp Control Mechanical, he has had plenty of opportunities to do just that, working on contracts with companies like Intel, Hewlett-Packard, the Port of Portland and now Adidas. He worked on the Portland Airport expansion project where he was responsible for HVAC and piping system installation.
"PCC’s CMET program taught me persistence: to do what it takes to be successful in the workplace."