While studying chemistry at the University of Michigan, Ashley Hartmann said her polymer science and engineering professor told the class, "You all don't know it but 60 percent of you will end up in the plastics industry."
Hartmann said the class thought, "No way." They're organic chemists. Why plastics?
But now, Hartmann is the manager of materials development at Continental Structural Plastics Inc. of Auburn Hills, Mich. Owned by Japanese materials firm Teijin Ltd., Continental Structural Plastics supplies lightweight composite materials and molded parts for the automotive, heavy truck, HVAC and construction industries.
She said she is still "pretty young" and hasn't hit her greatest achievement yet, but she's had her biggest failure and it was a great teaching moment.
"I still get made fun of for this. My first six months at CSP, I was told to make a composite compound white," she said in her Women Breaking the Mold submission. "It should have been a two-week project. … I literally spent six months working on this but couldn't get the color match even through seven different iterations of color matching, but it wasn't white. Then my supervisor said, 'You're not putting this in maturation, are you?' And I said, 'Of course I am. Based on the formulation, this goes through maturation.'
"It turns out when you put polyesters in maturation, they turn yellow," she continued. "So, I spent six months turning plastics yellow that probably was the right color originally. Once I figured this out, 10 days later, the project was done. I learned to never put white material in maturation."
Hartmann was nominated by Kim Zitny, director of corporate communications at CSP.
Hartmann said she enjoys being able to point to real, tangible goods and knowing that she had a role in getting a vehicle on the road.
"The most exciting thing about my job is that a lot of the projects that I initially started on at CSP have now come to life. Vehicles are in production and on the road or launching featuring parts made of materials I was involved in creating," Hartmann said.
The most surprising thing about the plastics industry, according to Hartmann, is how many things are made of plastics.
"It's everywhere. … You can go into any room and find 20 things or more that are made out of plastics," Hartmann said.
To relax, she enjoys golf, yoga and CrossFit. Hartmann is also involved in the University of Michigan Alumni Association.
Hartmann said her mom has provided the best words of advice that she takes whenever she's confronted with an uncomfortable situation: "When we were kids and would try to get out of school by saying we were sick, my mom would tell us, 'You can be sick at home or sick at school. So, you might as well go to school.' … It just reminds me that I just have to suck it up and do it. Don't bother whining. You're going to have to do it anyway."