When Jennifer Presnell graduated from college, she took a summer job in the lab of a plastics company in her hometown of Asheboro, N.C.
Presnell had been a biology major at nearby Catawba College and thought “long and hard” before taking the job because she saw the industry mainly as a source of pollution: “I viewed plastics as bad for the environment.”
But she admits she was curious and thought working for the summer as a quality control technician could be interesting.
So she took the job. The work did turn out to interest Presnell, she found her attitude about plastics changing, and it became the start of a fruitful career.
Today the 40-year-old Presnell is corporate quality systems and regulatory affairs manager at the same company, Plastics Color Corp.
“I love what I do,” she said. “I work in compliance. I manage our quality systems as well as our regulatory side. I'm the type of person, I love to see an auditor come in.
“I know it sounds kind of crazy, but I do,” she said. “I see it as a challenge.”
Presnell said her mind started to change about plastics when she saw manufacturing up close, at the teamwork needed to develop even a simple product, and how engineers and designers were using plastics to create products that otherwise would be tough to manufacture.
“You have a designer who is designing this little widget and you have a purchasing guy who selects us as the supplier and how all these things come together to make this one product,” she said. “It's amazing. It surprised me a lot when I got into this line of work.”
She said her opinions about the role of plastics in society also changed when she saw how polymers are used in life-saving devices, and she started working on projects using recycled plastic or developing more sustainable products.
She said her biggest current challenge is bringing together different generations and helping seasoned employees and the tech-oriented, multitasking younger workers build respect for each other. Presnell sees herself as a bridge builder: she said one of her greatest accomplishments has been strengthening relationships with suppliers and customers, taking some of their “worst critics” and turning them into company supporters and friends.
But when she's not managing the demands inherent in regulatory compliance (and looking forward to that next audit), Presnell relaxes with things that don't require so much painstaking attention to detail.
“I love to fish and garden,” she said. “It allows my mind to just wander off and enjoy my surroundings.”
And she admits to a “guilty little pleasure” watching reality television. But perhaps true to her job minimizing corporate risk and meeting government regulations, what grabs her is not the drama but rather looking at another person's definition of risk.
“It just intrigues me to see how and what other people think is acceptable behavior or what happened to this person to bring them to this moment,” she said. “Sometimes you can learn a thing or two.”