mary.jpg“Your career is what you make it,” once said Mary K. Engelman, an inaugural fellow of the American Chemical Society.

 

From a staff sergeant in the US Air Force to a college student at a community college, from a technician to a respected leader in a large chemical company, from a student affiliate to an ACS Fellow, Engelman has successfully advanced a beautiful yet unusual career path. Along the way, she has proved that one can achieve career success without an advanced degree.

 

Born to a military family in Germany, Engelman felt it was a natural choice for her to join the military when she was 19. In the military, she received extensive training in engineering and served the Air Force for 9 years. After receiving an honorable discharge, Engelman enrolled at Northeast State Community College in Tennessee and studied chemistry. She earned an associate degree in applied science in 1991. The degree landed her a job at Eastman Chemical, and she has been working there for the past 23 years.

 

At Eastman Chemical, Engelman gradually advanced her career from a technician to an Innovation Process Manager. Today, her main responsibility involves project and portfolio management in process and application innovation in the Strategic Technology Department. Her job requires her to meet with chemists, engineers, and managers on a daily basis. The chemistry education she received from Northeast State Community College and her training in the military have proved invaluable. But a drive to continue learning and growing, the best advice she received early on from a mentor, has helped her move further in her career advancement.

 

To succeed in the field, Engelman believes that great communication skills, a drive to succeed, and an ability to adjust are important. And she attributes the following for her own success.

 

  • Continuing to learn and grow
  • Seeking and creating opportunities
  • Working outside her comfort zone

 

In addition, she credits ACS for helping her improve her leadership skills, and for providing her opportunity to network with others. “Network is a must in today’s society,” Engelman says.

 

A mother to two daughters and a grandmother to 3 grand children, Engelman is passionate about mentoring the next generation science professionals. To give back, she has been serving the ACS as a career consultant since 2007. And she frequently hosts Webinars and gives presentations on career advancement. Not surprisingly, her tireless contributions have been recognized many times by ACS, the government, and other institutions. In 2009, ACS named Engelman an ACS Fellow for her outstanding contributions to ACS and the chemical professional in general. And in 2011, Northeast State Community College presented her an Outstanding Alumni Award.

 

Engelman is proud of her career achievements. But she is quick to point out “it takes time to get anywhere in life.” To achieve your goal, Engelman believes you need to “keep learning” and strive to make every day a great day. “At the end of day I always ask myself ‘Am I pleased with what I have accomplished for the day?’ If I can say yes,” says Engelman, “that is a great day.”

 

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Yanni Wang is a principal scientific writer and the owner of International Biomedical Communications, a company dedicated to translating research data into clear messages. Yanni has a PhD in chemistry and writes about biomedical research-related topics for professional audiences and the general public.