Dakotah Cooper, a senior chemistry major at Southern Arkansas University, is gaining valuable real-world experience at Albemarle in Magnolia, where he is interning this summer.
The native of Greenbrier, Arkansas, said he has long been fascinated with science and chose SAU after learning it had started a Chemical Engineering program to compete with others in the state.
“My interest in majoring in engineering began in the eighth grade,” Cooper said. “I realized how much I enjoyed problem-solving using math and logic, and then I realized that that was engineering.”
He discovered that he really loved chemistry classes. “They fascinated me. I combined the two into chemical engineering. I later learned that those two fields don’t overlap in a huge capacity, but I’m still happy with the choice I’ve made. My goal is to have a career that is research-based. I’ve been going on-campus research through the National Resource Research Center and I really enjoy it, so that’s the direction I would like to go.”
He said he was originally thinking of attending another university in the state but then received a brochure from SAU in February of his senior year in high school.
“I read that SAU had started a Chemical Engineering program of its own, so I scheduled a tour,” he said. “On my tour day, the campus ended up closing at noon because of an ice storm. But throughout the nasty weather, the faculty and staff were still phenomenal, going above and beyond. Not to mention how beautiful the campus was. I fell in love with SAU on that tour day and thought, ‘If the campus is this great on a terrible day, I can’t imagine how amazing it must be on a good day.’”
Cooper said SAU has been everything he hoped it would. “It was so easy to get involved. I started out in Honors College, band and Alpha Gamma Rho Social and Professional Academy in my freshman year. Since then, SAU has developed me into a leader.”
He said he has served as an RA, as chair of the Residence Hall Association, as president of his fraternity and has served as a Mulerider Roundup leader. “Getting involved is one of SAU’s best traits,” he said.
The amount of care shown each student “is the absolute best trait of SAU,” Cooper said. “If you are having any kind of problem, it is super-easy to contact a professor, a dean or just about anyone on staff to get help. The professors are more than willing to participate in study sessions, just to make sure everyone has the best chance at passing. Then there is Dr. Trey Berry, president. Never did I think I would see the president of a university driving in a golf cart at 8:00 at night, painting guardrail poles and picking up trash. He and all the faculty and staff want students to have the best experience possible.”
Cooper’s internship with Albemarle began with “a simple online application. One of my professors sent out an email telling us about the opportunity and encouraging us to apply. I did apply and was asked to come in for an interview.”
At Albemarle, Cooper works “closely with a chemical engineer to help processes and equipment work more efficiently and to be safer. This work ranges from putting in pressure gauges to working on the way rail cars are loaded.”
He said SAU helped prepare him for “everything I’m doing in the plant. Putting my skills in action is awesome, but my favorite part is being able to see all the equipment that I learn about in class. I love it when my mentor or supervisor comes into my office and says, ‘this heat exchanger is being pulled apart, wanna go look at it?’ And I throw on my coveralls, hard hat, safety glasses and steel toes, and out we go. They teach me so much it’s hard to retain it all!”