When he was in high school, Dean Dodaro knew he was going to be a music teacher. Or so he thought.
He knew a few different musical instruments and had studied music theory for several years. But during a career counseling session, his guidance counselor reviewed Dodaro's transcript and noticed he excelled in math and science, suggesting he should into engineering.
"The key advice was, 'You can try engineering and if it doesn't work out, go into music. But it's not going to work the other way around,'" Dodaro said in his Rising Stars survey.
He took the counselor's advice and graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. He also has an MBA from Rowan University.
Dodaro, 33, started part time as an intern at Hammonton, N.J.-based Polyvel Inc. plastics compounder in January 2008 and joined full time in May 2008. He began in technical service and inside sales before being promoted to sales engineer and ISO coordinator. He was promoted to his current position, quality and engineering manager, in March 2018.
Working at Polyvel has been his only roles in the plastics industry.
"I've always liked materials science, and plastics is the most versatile material there is," he said. "On top of that, I get to work for a company that specializes in working even more functionality into plastics."
Dodaro said he feels the industry is "very stable" and that he does not "foresee a future without plastics."
"I think finding plastic being used in plastics where traditional materials used to dominate — glass, wood, metal — is always interesting. Even as everyone becomes more sensitive to environmental concerns about plastic use, we're always increasing our consumption of plastics," he said.
In the 10 years he has been in the industry, Dodaro said he recognizes that the network of plastics professionals is full of "lifers."
"People may switch jobs, but people don't tend to leave the plastics industry," he said.
Dodaro looks up to a trio of Polyvel influencers who have had an impact on him: John Bassetti, former director of sales; Jeff Daecher, director of business development; and Brian Tidwell, president.
"Their combined experience in sales, engineering and management, which they shared with me, really shaped my appreciation for this industry," he said.
Dodaro said he learned a major life lesson that came from failing a class in graduate school and not being up front about it with his employer at first.
"This jeopardized my relationship with management and it's something I'm continually working to restore," he said. "It taught me to not sit on bad news. Unfortunate things happen. Unlucky things happen. Mistakes and accidents happen. There is no good that can come from stopping these things from coming to light."
On the other side, aside from becoming a father — he has three children, Luke, 6, Gabe, 6, and Charlotte, 5, with his high school sweetheart, Kristen, — his greatest achievement has been earning a master's degree while keeping work-life balance and sanity in tact.
"At this point in my life, it's all about the kids," he said. "I coach their sports, and we spend time outdoors hiking. I like doing things with my hands, too, so there's always a major home improvement project that I find 'relaxing.'"