Education and experiences lead to a fulfilling career for alumnus

Aug 04, 2020
jim macias shell
Macias presents to a large audience in Xi’an (Shaanxi province) at a Shell V-Power gasoline launch event.

Since graduating from Newman University (then Kansas Newman College) in 1981 and from Iowa State University in 1987, Jim Macias has had a successful 30-year career working for Shell Oil Co.

Jim along the Li river near the city of Guilin,
China, in Guangxi province.

For the past three years, Macias has been located in Shanghai, helping to grow both the Shell team and business there.

His time with Shell is coming to an end but he has enjoyed many aspects of his job, especially traveling and experiencing new cultures. If he manages to visit Antarctica, he will have touched all seven continents.

Aside from travel, Macias truly loves the work that he does. “My career has provided opportunity to work with several brilliant and affable colleagues from different parts of the world on interesting projects and on challenges worth solving. This includes a variety of scientific projects in support of Shell business interests, but also working across the industry on addressing future global energy demand and evaluating options for renewable energy,” he said.

At the end of this year he plans to retire from Shell, move to Colorado and enjoy reading, writing, pursuing his interest in wine and spending time outdoors.

Macias humbly reflected on how his education and experiences helped him achieve success in his life and career.

Macias graduated from Newman with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry.

He had taken an interest in science from a young age and always thought he’d pursue a degree in the field. As a child, he enjoyed learning about the NASA Space Program, went on nature hikes, stargazed and also took part in riskier boyhood science activities such as making gunpowder and fireworks.

Admittedly, school wasn’t something Macias took very seriously in his early years. He enjoyed his science-related classes in high school and once in college considered philosophy but ultimately landed on chemistry. He had always been passionate about science and took his first formal chemistry course at Kansas Newman College (KNC) in 1977.

Jim while working in China — out to
lunch with colleagues eating a traditional “Hot Pot”.

“For the first couple of years, I did well but was not fully committed to the college pathway and was not giving it my best effort. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that I decided to major in chemistry, and that is when the hard work started. Not blessed with an overabundance of natural talent, I had to study quite hard to get good grades in my core courses,” he said.

Macias was a commuter student who worked part time, held a partial scholarship and relied on a generous Kansas small college tuition grant program to obtain his degree.

Newman was much smaller at the time, though it is still small today, and Macias said he enjoyed the quiet, intimate setting.

When he wasn’t in the classroom, Macias would relax in the student union, which was located in the basement of Sacred Heart Hall, drinking coffee and chatting with fellow students or he and his friends would study, oftentimes spending late nights at the Wichita State University library since Newman’s closed early.

He took guitar lessons in De Mattias Fine Arts Center, which at the time was located across the street from campus. That street has since been turned into a walking path to create a more cohesive campus.

He is thankful he chose Newman to start his higher education journey.

“My undergraduate experience at Newman certainly provided me with tools and some perspectives that I would carry with me in work and life over the next four decades, though in ways possibly not as obvious as they might be … I had good chemistry, physics, biology and math professors who were available for consultation when needed, and I am very proud of the KNC diploma hanging on my office wall. I would have to say that Dr. Kathryn Boyle at Friends University was instrumental in piquing my interest in organic chemistry,” he said.

Jim Macias, third from left, visits a Shell gasoline station and convenience store in Beijing.  (l to r) two station operators, Macias, his supervisor Mattias Mundt, China business representative Louise Liu, and a station operator.

While at Newman, Professor of Biology Surrendra Singh matched Macias with an internship at Vulcan Chemicals, where many of his colleagues had earned advanced degrees from Iowa State University. This led to his own interest in the university. In 1987, he obtained his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Iowa State University.

After graduation, Macias took a job with Shell and never looked back. For most of his career he has been located in Houston, but in 2017 he was relocated to Shanghai for a temporary assignment.

Media Interview in Shanghai associated with Shell V-Power Gasoline Launch. (l to r) Gao Ming (work colleague), Macias and Shell China business leader Felix Liu.

For several years before that, Macias held a global leadership role within Shell.

“My job has been to investigate and deliver technology-based solutions in the area of fuels technology for use in the transportation sector. Primarily this means passenger cars, but also trucks and buses, and sometimes planes and trains,” he explained. “From a fuels standpoint this would include conventional fuels like gasoline and diesel but also unconventional energy platforms like biofuels and gaseous fuels such as propane, methane and hydrogen.”

At the Great Wall of China near Beijing. (l to r) Grandsons Hayden and Austin, wife, Deb, Jim and daughter, Jennifer.

“The purpose of my assignment in Shanghai was twofold,” he said, “Firstly, as China and the overall Asia Pacific region is a growth market with respect to energy demand, my role was to use my experience to help our Shell fuels businesses grow and prosper in China.

“Secondly, I needed to help build up the local team of Chinese chemists and engineers such that they would be well-positioned to support Shell’s business demands for technology solutions in China into the future.”

Standing near the Huangpu river in Shanghai. (l to r) Deb,
Jim and their daughter, Jennifer.

Macias not only enjoyed the career opportunities Shanghai provided but the culture he and his wife, Deb, found in Shanghai.

Macias and his wife lived in an apartment in the city center and were easily able to experience the diversity and atmosphere of Shanghai.

“Due to its history of external influences, not all of them positive, the city has quite an international feel to it, and benefits from substantial diversity of language, traditions, arts and cuisine,” said Macias.

The common breakfast area in their apartment block allowed them to meet people from all over the world from a variety of industries. The couple moved home in February but has stayed in contact with these friends and hopes to see them all again in person.

Longji rice terraces in Guangxi province.

Proper goodbyes were hard to come by when the couple left Shanghai as COVID-19 was becoming a global threat and shutting down businesses. Macias said possibly his only regret was not having a proper goodbye celebration with his coworkers but they did celebrate virtually.

Jim and his daughter, Jennifer, try deep-fried
scorpions at a street market in Beijing. 

The Maciases were able to enter the United States through Los Angeles Airport which was one of only 11 mandatory entry points from China at the time. Upon arrival, they underwent a medically supervised 14-day quarantine and then began working from home in Houston.