As a plant manager for Air Liquide, Mike Schubert ’14 oversees a variety of projects related to the company’s Air Separation Unit just outside of Seattle, WA. The plant takes in air, freezes it into its individual elements, then stores those elements in tanks to distribute to customers such as hospitals and food companies. Schubert, who majored in mechanical engineering, is charged with ensuring equipment stays updated, overseeing maintenance and increasing efficiency. He’s been in the position for year, following a two-year rotation that took him around the world.
“I was part of the ALLEX Program,” he said. “That’s an initiative where Air Liquide employees rotate through four different parts of the company to learn different aspects of the business. I worked in Paris, in the Bay Area and in Houston.” The purpose of the program is to allow new hires to try out different positions within the company before committing to a job. After the two years of rotations, ALLEX Program participants decide what type of position they would like, using their experiences to make an informed decision.
Now in Seattle, he’s marking his third year with the multinational company, and said he loved being exposed to Air Liquide’s operations. Though he sees himself working in management later in his career, he chose to first work in operations to get hands-on experience. Schubert feels that gaining first-hand experience in operations as an engineer early in his career will allow him to be a more effective manager later.
“When I was at Rice, I was an intern at Siemens,” he said. “And Air Liquide was a client. At the Career Fair and Internship Expo my senior year, just as I was walking out of Tudor Field House, I passed by the Air Liquide table. On a whim, I decided I might as well talk to them, so I approached them and said, ‘I’m not entirely sure what you do, but I worked for Siemens, and I know we worked with you. What job opportunities are available?’ They told me about the ALLEX Program, and it was exactly what I was looking for.”
It might have been an unconventional introduction, but Schubert doesn’t see it that way. While at Rice, he was a member of the university’s Spontaneous Combustion (aka SpoCo) improv group, so making things up on the fly is something he’s used to. Today, even though he’s a fulltime engineer, he still finds time for comedy.
“During my rotation in Houston, I joined an improv group called CSz Houston. They’re part of a national group that created an improv format known as ComedySportz, and when I relocated to Seattle, I reached out to the head of the local branch. Within a month of moving here, I was doing comedy gigs.”
He also works with Jet City Improv, and said that combined with CSz Seattle, he performs three or four times a week. He likes the pacing of improv, and the idea that anything goes. Improv starts from a premise called “Yes, and…” The idea is that participants agree to whatever opening premise is presented, however wild it might be, and add to it.
“You just roll with the punches,” said Schubert. “There’s something so positive about that. You take whatever the situation is and make the most of it.”
His favorite improv is a series of shows titled “A Tribe Called Yes!” about the rise and fall of a hip-hop group created through improv comedy and freestyle rapping. “It’s always the same key things happening,” he said. “How the group meets, and then there’s a rap battle, and the rise to fame. Then, the group breaks up, someone goes on a solo career and there’ll be a reunion of some kind. But we get the audience involved in making each show completely different. They’ll yell out something and that becomes the name of the band or they’ll give us a location and that becomes the place where the group meets. The audience decides the title of every song we perform too. It’s so much fun.”
Schubert said that his improv training is valuable on the job, as well. It’s helped him to figure out the strengths of each of his team members, and has enabled him to give them them tasks that showcase those strengths. It’s also helped him to seek creative solutions to any challenges that come up.
There’s something else his improv work has given him: a like-minded community.
“For me, improv is a break from engineering,” he said. “It’s helped me meet so many people, which made my life so much easier each time work relocated me.” Schubert said he’s grateful that his Rice education gave him not only a rigorous grounding in engineering, but also his comedy training. He thinks that diversity of opportunity is something that makes Rice unique.
“Rice was an integral part of making me the kind of engineer I am today. I got to work with so many people of so many backgrounds — in the classroom, on design projects, with SpoCo — and that taught me so much about how to handle all the things I do today.”