Editor's Note: These short stories accompany the Science Journal feature article Applying Science to Business.
Making the Path Easier for the Next Generation
Person to Person: James Balog
James Balog was born into a modest family of Ukrainian immigrants in the small coal-mining town of Vintondale, Pennsylvania.
“He was very good in school, and the teachers used him to teach other kids,” said Stephen Balog about his father. “They called him ‘The Professor.’”
James Balog transferred from Saint Francis College to Penn State after a year, and because he was so well-liked, he eventually became the first nonfraternity man to be elected class president. After graduating in 1950 with degrees in chemistry and physics, he worked at the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co., where he designed procedures for the manufacture of the anti-inflammatory drug cortisone.
“He was a child of the depression, and his father was a coal miner, so he always wanted to know why the coal mines closed during that time,” said Stephen Balog. “He would say, ‘The coal is still there. People still need coal. It still gets cold. We’re still making steel.’ And these kinds of broad thoughts often bump into business and economics.”
After pursuing an M.B.A. at Rutgers during night school, James Balog moved to Wall Street, and became a director at the investment bank Drexel Burnham Lambert, Inc., where he was vice chairman until 1987. He eventually retired as chairman of the board at Lambert Brussels Witter Group.
“He did very well for himself on Wall Street and wanted to make the path a little easier for the next generation of students who were interested in science and business,” said Stephen Balog, who also pursued a bachelor’s degree in a technical field, as well as an M.B.A., before moving to Wall Street himself. Although James Balog passed in 2019, the B.S./M.B.A. program continues to maintain a strong relationship with his wife, Alvina, and his sons.
“The generosity of Jim and Alvina Balog provides a superb educational experience for B.S./M.B.A. students,” said Lou Martarano, the program’s current director. “More than twenty years after its first students graduated, the program is still going strong.
In the same spirit as their parents’, Stephen Balog and his brothers recently endowed the James Balog Memorial Scholarship for science students from Cambria County, which includes their father’s hometown of Vintondale, through the Balog Foundation.
“There historically haven’t been too many Penn State students who have come from Cambria County, but we hope this support may provide the opportunity for students who might not otherwise have had the chance,” he said.
To learn more about James Balog, visit bit.ly/JamesBalog.
Taking the Winding Road
Person to Person: Natalie Stevens
For Natalie Stevens, the B.S./M.B.A. program has been an excellent way to explore her options and really pinpoint where her career interests lie. She began with a focus in chemistry, and her first internship was at an immunology lab overseen by Anthony Fauci at the National institutes of Health. But after taking a statistics course for the first time—and loving it—she switched gears.
“I enjoyed my first internship, but the pace of work wasn’t right for me, so it really helped steer what I was interested in,” she said.
For her co-op, she worked in business analytics for Liberty Mutual, moving to Boston—many miles from her hometown near Philadelphia—for six months. She took on duties in project management, and because she had a positive experience, she later participated in a virtual management rotation program with Capital One during the summer between her undergraduate studies and starting the M.B.A. program. But she had always been interested in consulting, and so for her final internship between the first and second year of the M.B.A. program, she worked as a consultant doing finance for Ernst & Young.
“I really liked the consulting aspect but realized I wanted something a little more hands on with a little more control,” she said. “Now I have a full-time offer with a smaller firm, which can provide me with more of those options.”
“I’ve learned a lot about myself through these experiences,” she added, “and about what I’m looking for in a company culture.”
A Resource for Students
Person to Person: Emily MacPhail Soonthornchai
B.S./M.B.A. program alumna Emily MacPhail Soonthornchai always knew she wanted a career in business, but she is grateful for her science education. As an undergraduate she pursued a B.S. in science, which allowed her to follow her scientific interests in epidemiology and statistics. In her first position at Johnson & Johnson, she worked in research and development (R&D) procurement, sourcing services and supplies for clinical trials.
“My day-to-day work was with our scientists, clinicians, and the folks designing clinical trials, and I was their liaison to our supply partners,” she said. “I was able to have the technical discussions with these experts because of my science background, but I had the business know-how from the program to blend those two worlds. And the technical background has continued to serve me well.”
Now, Soonthornchai focuses more on the supply chain side of the organization, but she said that her process and problem-solving skills at their core stem back to her education and background. Because she has seen the benefits of this combined background, and because of her passion for helping others, Soonthornchai is very active in the B.S./M.B.A. program as an alumna. She has participated in symposiums and virtual panels as well as the New York City trip. She has also given formal talks, for example sharing tips on what it takes to be successful in the corporate world and how to make the transition.
“My involvement in the program has evolved as the program has evolved,” she said. “I like to be a resource to the students on a variety of topics. Everything from how you get an internship or co-op at a company like Johnson & Johnson to how you present your internship project in a way that demonstrates your impact and opens more doors for you. I’ve even coached students on how to negotiate a full-time offer.”
“The infrastructure and offerings have really grown since I was in the program,” she added. “It’s been great to see the evolution and rewarding to be a meaningful part of it over the years.”