Alumnus Dan Coombs recognized for service to students

Posted: May 30, 2023
Dan Coombs with Andre Palmer, Dean Howard-2023 Distinguished Faculty Awards
Dan Coombs, center, with College of Engineering Associate Dean for Research Andre Palmer (left) and College of Engineering Dean Ayanna Howard (right). 

Each year, The Ohio State University College of Engineering honors excellence in teaching, innovation and service. Faculty, researchers and partners were recognized on April 28, 2023, at the 26th annual Distinguished Faculty Awards.

Included in this year's celebrations was alumnus Dan Coombs (’78 BS), who received the Dean’s Meritorious Service to Students Award.

The Dean's Meritorious Service to Students award recognizes an individual or group from outside the Ohio State community who has provided exemplary service to students of the College of Engineering. Coombs, who recently retired as executive vice president for global manufacturing, projects and refining at LondellBasell—one of the world’s largest plastics, chemicals and refining companies—has demonstrated significant commitment to students. As such, he was recognized for his enduring, impactful support and encouragement of College of Engineering students’ education, work-learning experiences and career advancement. 

“We’re proud to celebrate these extraordinary Buckeyes, whose dedication to education, innovation and collaboration enables the College of Engineering to excel in its mission to prepare the next generation of problem-solvers and create impactful solutions that improve our world,” said Dean Ayanna Howard, the Monte Ahuja Endowed Dean’s Chair. 

Around nine years ago, Coombs began returning to campus to make presentations to students in The Ohio State University American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) local chapter, hosting talks about his career, providing career advice, and leading resume and interviewing workshops. A warm and caring individual, he spent a great amount of time having personal discussions with students following some of these presentations, offering advice on decision-making and career pathways specific to their interests.

The value of these interactions is impossible to quantify. However, towards the end of his career, Coombs was bringing over 40 years of industry experience to his presentations and interactions with students, including 25+ years of manufacturing experience in the US and the Middle East as well as major capital project management. His experience includes commercial management, safety, operations improvement, large projects, M&A, and international business management in the fields of petrochemical, plastics, and refining.

Dan Coombs with Unit Ops students
Dan Coombs and other CBE Advisory Board members interact with students in the Unit Operations laboratory

Coombs has a strong appreciation for work ethic, and believes that one of his earliest work experiences—working his way up as a high school student from crew person to manager at a McDonald’s restaurant—provided a baseline learning experience which contributed to his success. He encourages the same work ethic in students. After joining LyondellBasell in 2015, he ignited recruiting efforts at Ohio State, tapping students from CBE, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. Until Coombs began this effort, LyondellBasell did not have a significant recruiting presence on campus. LyondellBasell now has a sustained recruiting presence here and has also been active in providing work-education opportunities for our students, offering 37 internships and coops since 2016. This included six CBE students in both 2016 and 2017, nine in 2018, 11 in 2019, three in 2020, and two in 2021. (2022 data will be gathered in 2023.) Coombs was often personally involved in interviewing and supervising Ohio State students. The company has also hired many students.

Among CBE alumni alone, there are 13 currently employed at LyondellBasell. Coombs’ efforts have also brought annual funding from LyondellBasell toward student programming in CBE, MAE, ECE and the WiE program of approximately $10-$15k per year.

Coombs also served personally as a mentor to several students, with a few relationships leading to job offers and employment with LyondellBasell for those students.

Coombs has also indirectly helped students by advising the Ohio State Chemical Engineering Industrial Advisory Board regarding what changes to the curriculum would best meet the needs of today’s industry.

Throughout his time as an Ohio State volunteer, Coombs has also been a donor, with his giving increasing over time. In one of his larger gifts, he established an endowed scholarship for undergraduate students, and has drastically added to it over time. He is currently funding an endowed graduate fellowship. This is important because a high-quality graduate program is critical to US News and World Report rankings, and the gift will help CBE recruit and retain top graduate students.

Throughout his time as an Ohio State volunteer, Coombs has also been philanthropically generous. In 2017 he and his wife Ellen established an endowed scholarship which provides support to several students a year.  Dan and Ellen Coombs are also in the process of funding an endowed graduate fellowship in Chemical Engineering. This will help fill the significant need of recruiting and retaining top graduate students--critical components for the long-term success of the chemical engineering program.

As a college student, Coombs became mindful about the value of diversity. He was born in Butte, Montana and also lived in Seattle, Washington before settling in Dayton, Ohio. “Living in such diversified cities helped me to adapt to the differences in the way people live, work, and act,” he wrote in 1976. “Each new place was an interesting and challenging experience.”

This appreciation for diversity is partly what led him to spearhead a partnership between our students and the AIChE Foundation to deliver engineering outreach to local middle schools. In January 2021, Dan had newly joined the AIChE Foundation Board of Trustees, which was running its Doing a World of Good campaign aimed at bringing the best of chemical engineering to the world. The effort inspired Coombs, and he and his wife Ellen discussed with AIChE how they could participate in the campaign while partnering with Ohio State. With the world's ever-increasing need for chemical engineers, they found the perfect project: the Ohio State AIChE student chapter could pilot a newly-designed K-12 STEM Ambassador program in Columbus-area middle school classrooms.

"The purpose of the program is to spark interest about engineering and STEM in the future generations, intentionally supporting AIChE's commitment to diversifying the next cohorts of talent," Coombs said. "The goal is to increase outreach to female and minority students and hopefully recruit talented young people whose diverse backgrounds can enrich and strengthen our discipline," he added.

The effort has been a tremendous success, impacting both the middle-school students as well as our own students involved in the project. "Doing this feels really important,” said one of the CBE student volunteers. “If I can help more people get involved in STEM; if I can inspire some little girl to be involved in STEM—I think that is really amazing,” she said. Another student volunteer said, "This program is important because I came from a small town that never had such a program. My interest in science would have been sparked a lot sooner with a program like this, so seeing these kids get really interested because of an experiment makes me feel better."

Another student discovered a passion for teaching youth in STEM. "I thought it was exciting that I could share some of the things I touch and learn every day with a bunch of kids who are brand new or know very little about the field," he said. “It was great to see how the hands-on stuff really drew them in."

At the end of this classroom project, an excellent framework had been developed that could continue in Columbus and also be used as a starting point by other student chapters across the country.

Coombs spent the bulk of his career with Chevron Petro Chemical. The last eight years were with LyondellBasell, where he advanced to the executive vice president position. He received the College of Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award for Career Achievement in 2018 and in 2021 the American Institute of Chemical Engineers named him Philanthropist of the Year. He also holds a master of science in chemical engineering from the University of Tulsa and a master of business administration degree from Texas A&M University, and is certified as a Professional Engineer.

Also recognized at the 2023 COE Distinguished Faculty Awards celebration were a number of COE faculty (including four CBE faculty) and John Corkill (’67 BS-Architecture), who also received the Dean's Meritorious Service Award for his deep and sustained commitment to supporting Knowlton School students through scholarships, mentoring and advocacy.


Category: Alumni
Tag: award