From student to administrator: Zwiercan celebrates 10 years of success

Joseph Zwiercan

For Joseph Zwiercan, being the department chair for petrochemical/energy at the LyondellBasell Center for Petrochemical, Energy, & Technology is more than just a job. It is a calling.

After a few years working as a first-class pipefitter and shield metal arc welder and holding other oil and gas jobs, Zwiercan could advance only so far before his lack of training and degree stopped him.

Determined to make the right decision about a degree program, Zwiercan asked a petrochemical hiring manager which college she would look for if all candidates were equally skilled.

“She said … San Jacinto College, so I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” he said.

Zwiercan found all the instructors came directly from industry.

“They were teaching and working in the plants at the same time,” he said. “I knew that I could trust their knowledge and experience.”

Zwiercan earned his Associate of Applied Science in instrumentation technology and graduated with honors as a member of PTK. His experience in industry includes new construction, contract maintenance, material and plant maintenance, operations, accounting, fire, medical, hazmat, and core rescue.

Ten years later, Zwiercan’s employer began downsizing due to industry moving operations and production overseas.

“I survived the first few rounds of cuts, but then I found out they were going to close my plant,” Zwiercan said. “I had to put my faith in God and trust that something would be out there for me. God led me to a listing for an adjunct instructor at San Jac.”

In summer 2012, he started teaching as an adjunct, and by fall, he had assumed a full-time faculty position with the instrumentation program. Three years later, he took on a dual role as full-time instructor and department chair, ultimately becoming a full-time department chair that fall.

“I am going on nine years and will begin my tenth in 2022,” he said. “I feel very blessed to work in a state-of-the-art facility with a first-class College and team.”

In 2016, Zwiercan received the Texas Association of College Technical Educators Award of Excellence for his work as department chair. This award recognized San Jac’s petrochemical technology programs as exemplary and innovative statewide.

“This award belongs to everyone whose efforts helped us achieve this level of recognition,” he said. “The TACTE Award of Excellence means our process technology program is top-notch.”

Zwiercan is a member of the Instrument Society of Automation and North American Process Technology Alliance and serves on the Texas Education Agency for the State of Texas Energy Advisory Committee and the NAPTA Outreach Committee as the education co-chair.

In 2020, he worked with the TEA to write and develop an innovative course in instrumentation and electrical focused on high school-level career and technical education.

 “I had never worked with TEA before and the entire process was unfamiliar to me,” he said. “I’m proud of the work we accomplished to make this opportunity possible for high school students.”

Through all of his accomplishments, Zwiercan takes the greatest pride in seeing his students succeed.

“I love sharing my knowledge with people of all generations,” he said. “Seeing them get jobs in industry and progress through their careers is the best feeling. Student success is at the core of what we do, and it makes me proud to be an educator.”