Written by Paul Alongi, College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences
Few Clemson University alumni illustrate the global impact engineers have on the world as well as Suzanne Roat. She also happens to be a shining example of how a successful alumnus can make a positive impact on her alma mater and future engineers.
Her 26-year career as a chemical engineer working with oil refinery processes has taken her around the nation and world from Mississippi, California and Montana to Kuwait, Singapore and Greece. In her spare time, she has raced competitively in triathlons and ultramarathons, qualified to scuba dive with a rebreather to more than 300 feet down and coached swimming for the Special Olympics.
With such an active life, Roat could have forgotten Clemson, where she earned a bachelors of science in 1985. Instead, she is turning and giving back to her alma mater.
Roat joined the Dean’s Leadership Circle in 2014 and strategically used matching gifts to double the impact of her contributions. She co-hosted a dean’s reception that same year in Houston, where she currently lives, and has made arrangements in her estate to create an endowed scholarship for engineering students in the Calhoun Honors College.
“I feel like I’m paying it forward,” she said. “I was successful thanks to Clemson and the University of Tennessee, so I’m going to make sure other people are successful. I give my funds to use at the dean’s discretion, and he tells me once in a while what he’s doing with the funds.
“I’m pleased with the outcome. It’s helping students who need help. They’re good students but may not be financially well equipped.”
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, thanked Roat for her generous support.
“Through her support and example, Dr. Roat is helping create a new generation of engineers and scientists who will be prepared to meet the grand challenges of the 21st century,” he said. “We are fortunate to have her on the team and grateful for all that she has done to support the college.”
Roat is now based in Houston as crude and refining strategy analyst for Chevron Downstream and Chemicals.
She said that her undergraduate experience at Clemson prepared her to continue her education at the University of Tennessee, where she earned a master’s degree and doctorate. All of her degrees are in chemical engineering.
Roat said that one of the valuable lessons she learned at Clemson is that nobody works alone. In Unit Operations Lab, the students had to work as a team with their grades dependent on each other.
“Having those experiences is vital,” she said. “Nothing happens in a large company like Chevron by one person. It’s always teams of people working on things together, bringing together their individual expertise to the project and making the project go forward. Being able to work in a team environment successfully is imperative.”
It’s also important for students to have verbal and written communication skills, Roat said.
“It’s the only way you’re going to get ahead,” she said. “You have to stand up in front of people and tell them your story as succinctly as possible and convince them. If you have a message and you’re asking for something, verbal articulation and written messaging are imperative as well.”
The place where the Blue Ridge yawns its greatness just may be calling Roat back as she plans her retirement.
She has returned to Clemson for visits and is planning a trip in March to Greenville.