• 73°

BRIGHT FUTURES: Mario Virgen eyes BASF internship for petrochemicals career

Mario Virgen might have grown up in Fresno, Calif., but he is planting his roots in the bright lights of the Port Arthur petrochemical field — a decision that was set several years ago.

“Being from California, (plants) were not a big thing out there,” he said. “It was mostly farms, so when my family and I drove into Port Arthur, we came in at night. I heard my dad say, ‘This is where we are going to live.’ I looked out and saw the shining lights coming from the highway. I remember thinking it must be a big city.”

The next morning, Virgen said he realized the lights were towers scoured through the city’s various refineries.

Mario Virgen, 22, stands outside a bridge overlooking the BASF Total Petrochemical on Atlantic Road, where he is a co-op intern.

“That’s how I got into all of this,” he said. “I’ve seen what goes into the job and what people can make out of a good career in the field — that’s when I started chasing this dream.”

Virgen, 22, took a huge step last month towards his dream of becoming a process technician, nabbing a selective BASF Total Petrochemical LLC internship through Lamar State College Port Arthur.

“I was really excited to be selected for this internship,” he said. “I think it was a great decision on my part to come here. I really love it. A lot of the work I do is shadowing a real technician, getting exposed to all the equipment, learning the tools and studying the safety procedures.”

Virgen, who also has a two-year degree in instrumentation, beat out other applicants for the position to join three of his fellow classmates.

Applicants were required to be in their last semester of schooling, maintain good grades and manage a certain GPA.

Jay Bussell, learning and development coordinator for BASF said he, and other members of the selection committee, chose Brigen because of his energy, enthusiasm and wit.

“As soon as he walked into the room, you could feel the positive energy and see the humility,” Bussell said. “You can see that leadership ability. We knew we wanted him here and we’re happy to have him.”

Virgen started his internship Jan. 27.

He will complete four months of shadowing until the end of the spring semester in May.

So far, Bussell said Virgen is “knocking it out of the park.”

“(Virgen) is doing a great job here,” he said. “He’s very humble. He asks a lot of questions and is a good cultural fit here, that’s a big deal. He has slipped right into the shift he was assigned to and has already made friends. I think he is a shining example of what a co-op student should look like.”

Virgen has high hopes for returning to BASF after receiving his degree as a paid employee.

“Right now, I want to excel in my internship, and, maybe, get a job here after,” he said. “BASF was the first place to give me a chance, so I’d love to work here and accept any offer they give me.”

Outside of school and work, Virgen enjoys hanging out with his friends, working on cars and playing basketball. He also hopes someday to start his own family and share his story of hard work and success with others.

“Some people find me as an inspiration to be a future co-op,” he said. “I want to tell them it’s not easy, but to hang in there. Be patient. Be humble. Work hard. Have fun. Make history.”