When Irene Binash (BSChE ’79, MS Mgmt ’81) learned that Purdue Engineering had landed a $19.75 million National Science Foundation grant to study new petrochemical resources, she was intrigued. Having spent 36 years at Exxon Mobil Corp., she follows innovations in the oil and gas industry.
The purpose of the Engineering Research Center (ERC) grant, awarded in 2017, is to engineer a system to convert light hydrocarbons from shale resources into chemicals and transportation fuels in smaller, modular, local and highly networked processing plants.
She learned more when she and her husband, Brian, met with Sangtae Kim, the Jay and Cynthia Ihlenfeld Head of the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering and Distinguished Professor of Chemical Engineering. Kim detailed the goals for the new Center for Innovative and Strategic Transformation of Alkane Resources, or CISTAR.
Binash says, “I was happy to learn about this endeavor, and very proud of Purdue for being identified as a leader in this field — and one of the very few ERCs in the country.”
A good fit
“I was with ExxonMobil Chemical Co. for most of my career, primarily in the polymer and plastics area. Much of that shale oil can be used downstream from production to make not only fuels but also feedstocks for plastic materials,” Irene says. “Plastic materials do a lot to improve the lives of people around the world, in the medical industry, for example.”
Knowing the good the industry can do, it was natural for the Binashes to support the CISTAR ERC, one of only 19 such centers in the nation. “Making this gift was an excellent fit,” Irene says. “And I am eager to see what Purdue engineers can do to bridge the gap from traditional fuels to alternative fuels.”
With NSF funding covering only a portion of the work to be done, individual gifts like the gift from the Binashes will enable CISTAR to impact the future of energy by supporting the project’s innovative vision for new scientific and engineering discoveries, research-based education, strength through diversity, and skilled workforce development.
Although Irene recently retired from Exxon Mobil, the company matched her gift 3-to-1. “I’m proud of Exxon Mobil for matching gifts to education,” she says. “People don’t realize the good that petrochemical companies do. Not only with their science and technology, but with their gifts of support.”
Coming up at Purdue As a Purdue alumna, one of Irene’s fond memories was her time as a Pep Girl. On a whim, she accompanied a friend to the tryouts — and made the squad. “I performed at the home football and basketball games for my sophomore, junior and senior years. So that was fun, and it was a nice diversion from studying,” she says.
After completing her bachelor’s in chemical engineering, she earned a master's in management from the Krannert School of Management. She did not work as an engineer in the classic sense, but her Purdue chemical engineering education directly fueled her career. Exxon Mobil Chemical recruited MBAs with technical undergraduate degrees. Thanks to knowledge gained in Purdue’s rigorous curriculum, professionally she hit the ground running.
“Having worked in management, and in many different areas within Exxon Mobil, I have a comprehensive understanding for what our industry does, throughout the product chain cycle. And that’s why I’m so interested in supporting CISTAR.”
Although her parents did not attend college, they were very proud of their children’s academic success. Irene’s two older brothers are engineers, one of whom is another Purdue alum. “My parents were big supporters of Purdue. They would always call me whenever Purdue won a game and say ‘Purdue’s No. 1!’ — whether they were No. 1 or not,” Irene recalls, laughing.
Irene and Brian still joke about that phrase. Several years ago, they created a scholarship in her parents’ name. The Peter and Victoria A. Hoysan Purdue’s # 1 Scholarship supports chemical engineering undergraduates.
A desire to improve lives
Irene’s eclectic career at Exxon Mobil included stints in financial analysis, market development, and marketing communications — raising awareness about newly created polymers and molecules. She spent her final two years at Exxon Mobil leading the company’s United Way campaign, which, she says, opened her eyes to the needs of the Houston community. In 2015, the campaign yielded over $14 million in donations from employees, retirees, and the company — and touched the lives of 2.4 million people.
“Working on that campaign, I met people throughout the Exxon Mobil corporate realm, in exploration, development, production, research and engineering,” she says. “I gained even greater affinity for what our industry does, throughout the product chain cycle — which helped spur my interest in the CISTAR endeavor in Chemical Engineering at Purdue.”
Irene is still active with the Houston United Way. “It’s a wonderful organization and in line with our philanthropic interests, which include education and homelessness,” she says. Brian has served on the boards for the Star of Hope Mission and Houston’s Habitat for Humanity.
And in their philanthropy, Irene and Brian focus on improving lives. “We’ve been blessed throughout our professional careers,” she says. “We want to give back where we believe we can improve the lives for as many people as possible.”
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Irene and Brian Binash
Investments in Infrastructure
Expansions and improvements to teaching and learning spaces, laboratories, offices
Elevating Student Experience
Scholarships, student opportunities, diversity programs, student clubs
Dedicated to the Cause
Fundraising, event hosting, activity planning, advisory boards, networking with alumni
Laboratory infrastructure and equipment, project startup funds, graduate student support
Administrative funds, student travel and networking, unexpected opportunities
Rewarding, retaining, recruiting faculty and promoting diversity in engineering