MChE program leverages industry experience, small classes, and a strong job market

Chemical Engineering Professional masters students benefit from small cohorts and deep industry connections

Micheal Wong and Ericson de Paula

“Houston is the energy capital of the world, so the job market for chemical engineers with advanced degrees like our Master of Chemical Engineering (MChE) is very strong,” said Michael S. Wong, Rice University’s Chemical Engineering Department Chair and the Tina and Sunit Patel Professor in Molecular Nanotechnology.

“Interest in the energy industry waxes and wanes; it is high now and will remain so, because of climate change and environmental concerns. The industry is shifting to address those challenges, and our chemical engineers are well-prepared to guide and influence those changes. Here in Houston, we are in the right place at the right time. Our MChE students are taking everything they are learning out into the world, where they can make an impact.”

Wong directs a large research group and has been an active faculty member at Rice since 2001. With degrees from Caltech and MIT, and postdoctoral training at the University of California at Santa Barbara, he understands the rigor of advanced degree programs in top-tier research universities.

“Our MChE students have no research requirements, but they take the same core courses as our Ph.D. students, and that makes our program unique among our peers,” said Wong.

“That shared curriculum produces a highly qualified professional engineer. About 10-20% of our MChE students decide to pursue a Ph.D., but the majority of our students are here for career advancement. Ericson De Paula, our program director, has done a great job of expanding the MChE electives to support those career goals. He is very attuned to the current needs of our students and prospective students, and he’s committed to helping them shine.”

De Paula believes the students begin to shine as soon as they settle into the program. He said, “Our small class sizes and deep industry relationships make our MChE program the best of the best. Two types of students apply to Rice’s MChE program: those who have recently completed their university studies in areas like energy, (petro)chemical, environmental, or  biotechnology engineering, and those who have been working in the industry and want to boost their current careers with a graduate degree.”

Rich dialogues arise in the groups and class discussions, thanks to industry professionals, students, and recent interns with overlapping field experiences. Strong connections between the students and faculty members who know their names, their backgrounds, and their aspirations make the program distinctive.

De Paula, with 50 years in engineering and leadership, invites guests to discuss chemical engineering in various industries. Industry representatives engage with students, and working groups deepen their understanding of complex topics. Small class sizes and a low student-to-faculty ratio foster close relationships among students and professors, creating an environment of trust that encourages open discussion.  

De Paula’s, Wong’s, and other faculty members’ industry connections include facilities along the Houston Ship Channel – the largest petrochemical complex in the United States. The faculty members facilitate introductions for MChE students, which can lead to job opportunities in Houston and around the world.

“Their career choices tell me our expanded selection of electives is already helping each student tailor the MChE program to their unique interests. The broader elective offering is also one of the ways our program is evolving to better support students with different perspectives of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said De Paula. 

In his classrooms and research group, Wong is equally committed to ensuring all students feel comfortable –both with the work and with talking about their perspectives and challenges. As department chair, he has been able to sponsor discussions and elevate awareness of the links between improved student outcomes and a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable student body.

Learn more about Rice University's Master of Chemical Engineering (MChE) program at our upcoming info sessions