Dr. Erica Frankel—who earned her PhD in chemistry at Penn State—never expected to find the perfect graduate program for her right here in Pennsylvania. After completing her undergraduate studies at Drexel University, Dr. Frankel planned to leave Pennsylvania to continue her education, until she visited Penn State.
“I will never forget when I visited the department for the first time,” Dr. Frankel explains, “I immediately clicked with several of the faculty members. It was clear that this was a supportive department—with supportive, excited faculty—that challenged their students to do the best science.” She notes that she was impressed by the department’s interconnected lab spaces, which were designed to promote collaboration across research groups and disciplines.
Dr. Frankel, who was co-advised by two different faculty members, Philip Bevilacqua and Christine Keating, says that this collaborative environment was a major factor in her post-Penn State professional success. “I was able to gain exposure to two very different scientific styles,” she explains, “which allowed me to cultivate my own way of approaching scientific challenges based off of how my advisors conducted their own research projects.” Dr. Frankel adds that this was a very valuable experience. In fact, one of her favorite academic experiences involved stepping outside of her scientific comfort zone to publish a paper based off of mathematical relationships to describe the complexity in catalysis rate profiles that are observed, differing from her previous work that was focused on experimental wet chemistry.
Today, Dr. Frankel is a senior chemist at Dow Chemical. She says that the collegial atmosphere at Penn State helped her to think critically about science and chemistry and ask the best, most targeted questions related to the challenges at hand, skills that have proven invaluable to her work at Dow, where she is taking part in the company’s research rotational program.
The program allows scientists to experience different businesses within the company with the goal of helping them identify the research program that best suits their interests. “I have found that, although my expertise was centered in one area of chemistry during graduate school, I have been able to jump into a different field quite readily with little difficulty,” she notes, “I attribute this to the skills I learned from Penn State.” “I find that the most rewarding experiences originate from doing research out of your comfort zone and just out of your technical reach,” she adds. Currently, Dr. Frankel is conducting research to determine how architectural coatings technology can be made safer and more-environmentally friendly.
Although she’s no longer at Penn State, Dr. Frankel’s legacy continues. While serving as the Professional Development Chair for the Graduate Student Association, she worked to revitalize Sponsors Day, an event that allows grad students to learn about and interview with different companies. Over the years, the amount of companies participating in the event had dwindled to four companies, but, thanks to Dr. Frankel’s efforts, that number increased to ten and continues to grow. “I’m very proud of that work,” she notes, “I know of many students who were hired from that process.”
In her free time, Dr. Frankel enjoys teaching fitness classes and hiking with her husband and dog.