Virtual reality, 3D tech helps ready HCC students for petrochemical plant jobs

May 10, 2021

As petrochemical and manufacturing plants become increasingly technologically advanced, Houston Community College (HCC) has responded with guidance from industry advisors and investments in the latest teaching methods. As COVID-19 changed the educational landscape, hands-on classes had to be conducted in a virtual environment, with HCC process technology students continuing to learn using innovative software found in industry.

Such cloud-based software allows students to experience petrochemical and manufacturing plant environments using virtual reality (VR) and three-dimensional (3D) technology -- all from their home computers.

“The program has been very beneficial to allow students like me to get a proper understanding of the concepts taught in the book. You can visualize the controls like you would in the workplace,” said HCC process technology student Zane Asher.

Zane and other process technology students use state-of-the-art, Simtronics-SimCirrus software that allows them to simulate controlling a petrochemical plant from a control room.  The students can run scenarios that create conditions in the plant environment that could cause trouble, and then troubleshoot and solve the problems to return the plant to normal conditions.

Student Kyle Poole uses the same software in his current workplace and appreciates the opportunities he has in the classroom and at home to refine his skills.

“I monitor certain machines using SimCirrus software, so it has really been fun being able to adjust the process via computer,” Kyle said. “Most of my adjustments made at work are done physically.  I feel like I have a better understanding of what it's going to be like to be a process technician.”

Process technology instructor and program coordinator Dr. Azita Ahosseini is overseeing the classes within the HCC Global Energy Center of Excellence on the HCC Northeast Campus at 555 Community College Drive in Houston. The center team is responsible for preparing the curriculum, adapting textbooks and software, and equipping labs.

“The VR and 3D simulation software we use really enhances this training and provides the advanced skills that are required in industry,” Ahosseini said. “That increases job readiness for our students.”

Petrochemical plants are located throughout the Texas Gulf Coast region and the demand for highly skilled technicians continues to be steady. Through longstanding industry partnerships, HCC continues to provide trained technicians for employers. The median wage for such technicians is $68,000 annually in Texas for those with an Associate of Applied Science degree.

For more information about the program, visit or call 713-718-5534.

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