Alexis Oyetibo, Jessica Demeyer, and Heather Shohet walk into work at the Torrance Refinery every day and read multiple reports, fill in spreadsheets and calculate various elements in the refining process to help their colleagues produce products that help make modern life possible, in a safe and reliable manner. After hours however, those same eyes that read procedures and hands that type in spreadsheets now review notes – the musical kind.
You see, Alexis, Jessica and Heather are Torrance Refinery engineers and classical musicians; examples of multi-faceted employees whose musical talents helped shape their STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and eventual careers in engineering. Alexis plays the clarinet, Jessica – saxophone, and Heather – violin.
All three wholeheartedly agree that playing music at an early age has had a positive impact on their education. Jessica began by explaining:
“Playing music certainly helped me. While others were having difficulty with math problems involving fractions, I found it easier because when you read music, you actually think in terms of fractions, such as whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, etc., so fractions came easier for me. I was unaware at the time that I was thinking mathematically while playing music.”
Jessica currently works in the Economics and Planning Department and uses math daily to help the refinery maximize its production. Together with Alexis, she also plays with the Peninsula Symphonic Winds.
Alexis recounts how the lessons she learned through music continue to benefit her at work.
“Being in marching band definitely helped strengthen my memory, learn how to lead by example and hone my communication skills. I had to memorize the music pieces and where I was going because my actions impact the entire band’s performance. As high school drum major, I had to lead by example and communicate with people at different levels,” said Alexis. “Now as a process engineer, I work with different groups of people, and the lessons in teamwork and effective communication help me work well with my colleagues.”
For Heather, whose mother is a violinist and music teacher, music has always been a part of her life. “According to my mom, she doesn’t recall precisely when I started playing because there was always a violin around and music always filled our house. I just picked up the violin one day and started playing.” The fact music is a source of creative expression is well known. Besides finding fulfillment in music, Heather discovered a lesser-known impact that music can have on STEM courses and careers, which she shared:
“People think of the rhythm in music as being fluid and creative. Many don’t realize that playing music is very mathematical and precise. You have to learn to do both well – you must be precise and fluid to produce a harmonious piece. Having experience at an early age on exercising this level of precision and multitasking helped me better grasp engineering principles, succeed in school, and helps me to this day at work.”
As the Refinery’s Process Engineering Supervisor, Heather manages a team of engineers who support various units of the refinery. “I multitask daily as a I manage my team and apply the same level of precision I use in music to the multiple projects we have at the refinery, because getting the correct details is critical. My experience with music certainly contributed significantly to this,” she adds.
The link between music and learning is one of the reasons the Refinery supports non-profits that bring a variety of artistic performances to the Torrance community such as TOCA (Torrance Cultural Arts Foundation) and Kontrapunktus. The young, talented musicians of Kontrapunktus (hyperlink) who play Baroque-style music exhibit their talent locally, reaping the same benefits that Heather, Alexis, and Jessica have while exposing other young people to the beauty of learning music at a young age. Meanwhile, the variety of excellent artists and performances produced by TOCA can inspire others to learn an instrument, or at least help others add more good notes to their days.
To learn more about Kontrapunktus, please visit www.kontrapunktus.com and to view the 2021-2022 Season offered by TOCA, please visit www.torrancearts.org.