JTC 24: Engineering the Experience

Janie Watts' co-op experience confirms her commitment to chemical engineering

A young woman in a blue sweater stands in a park.

This story is part of the 2024 Journey to Commencement series, which celebrates the pinnacle of the academic year by highlighting University of Mississippi students and their outstanding academic and personal journeys from college student to college graduate.

Janie Watts didn't originally envision her future at the University of Mississippi. But a visit to see her sister at UM changed everything for the Brandon native.

The vibrant community of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and the charm of Oxford won her over.

"I witnessed firsthand my sister's leadership on campus and within the SMBHC, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that, too," Watts said.


Janie Watts gained real-world experience while working at Ergon Refining as a co-op student. Submitted photo

Today, Watts is not only a standout chemical engineering graduate but also a future Chevron process engineer, thanks to her proactive engagement in a co-op with Ergon.

Watts, an alumna of Northwest Rankin High School, initially explored biomedical engineering but found her calling in chemical engineering – a switch inspired by the puzzle-solving nature of classes taught by John O'Haver, professor emeritus of chemical engineering.

"Janie embraced the serious intellectual challenge of material balances," O'Haver said. "She now has emerged as a truly outstanding chemical engineer."

This pivot was more than a change of major; it was a step toward a classic engineering experience that Watts yearned for.

Watts' journey into the co-op world began at a career fair hosted by the School of Engineering. It was here that she first connected with Ergon, a Mississippi-based company known for its quiet yet influential presence in the refining sector.

Intrigued by the opportunity to integrate learning with practical experience, Watts secured a co-op position that would span four semesters.

"As a Mississippian, I already knew about the company, but what attracted me was how much the company is able to accomplish quietly," she said.

At Ergon's refining plant in Vicksburg, Watts was not just a spectator but an integral part of the process engineering department. Each semester offered new challenges, from troubleshooting processes to managing project documentation.

Watts worked closely with seasoned engineers, gaining insights and responsibilities typically reserved for more experienced staff. This involvement provided a comprehensive understanding of the day-to-day operations and challenges of a large-scale refining operation.

The co-op was more than a job; it was a pivotal element of Watts' educational experience. It affirmed her choice in chemical engineering and fueled her passion for the industry.


Janie Watts celebrates with fellow Rebel fans in Omaha to see Ole Miss win a national championship in the 2022 College World Series. Submitted photo

"Engineering school is very math and theory heavy," she said. "Going outside and looking at all of this massive equipment and understanding that our math makes this run is surreal. I got to see it all come alive."

Her achievements at Ergon didn't go unnoticed. Upon graduation, Watts will join Chevron in Pascagoula as a process engineer, a role she secured through her co-op performance and academic excellence.

As she prepares to head off to her first job as an engineering graduate, Watts looked back on her co-op experience as the best decision of her college career – valuable not just for the technical skills gained but for confirming her commitment to the field of chemical engineering.

"It's the best thing I ever did for myself," Watts said. "I got to find out that I love this job."

See more photos from Janie Watts' Journey to Commencement


Kayla VonBurg King, School of Engineering



May 10, 2024


Janie Watts

A young woman stands at a scenic overlook at night, with city lights behind her.

Janie Watts visits Griffith Observatory while in Los Angeles for the 2023 annual conference of the Society of Women Engineers. Submitted photo

A smiling young woman tosses a stack of papers into the air.

Janie Watts celebrates successfully defending her honors thesis based on research with the Molecular Biophysics and Engineering Lab in front of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Submitted photo

Portrait of a young woman wearing a blue sweater.

Armed with skills from her co-op experience as part of the Ole Miss engineering program, Janie Watts is set to begin her career with Chevron in Pascagoula. Photo by Srijita Chattopadhyay/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services