Cassandra Gallaschun, 31
Research Scientist/Engineer, Braskem
As research scientist/engineer for Pittsburgh-based materials firm Braskem, Cassandra Gallaschun is required to be on-site in the lab about half of the time. But with the coronavirus pandemic, her access to the lab has been limited due to safety initiatives, which has forced her to look for creative solutions to work and achieve tasks, such as using historical data.
"Being a member of a global team, I was somewhat accustomed to video meetings; however, not having the opportunity to collaborate and socialize in person has been hard," Gallaschun added. "I have been recently trying to make sure I devote some time each week to staying connected to my colleagues. During the pandemic, I have had to become more conscious of prioritizing work relationships."
Gallaschun has a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering with a minor in polymers engineering and chemistry and master's degree in chemical engineering from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering.
"My first plastics job was at Braskem upon graduation with my bachelor's degree," Gallaschun said. "I had always wanted to work in plastics because I saw how important the material was to society, but also how misunderstood it was by the public at the same time."
Gallaschun has worked as research scientist I and II in product development and now research scientist II in advanced characterization.
She named three accomplishments for her greatest achievements. First, the normalization of various heritage quality control protocols across all polypropylene manufacturing plants globally. "This involved application of both fundamental and empirical polymer analytical chemistry combined with modeling. This accomplishment makes it very easy to translate products from one plant to another, globally," she said.
The second is completing her master's degree while working at Braskem: "Initially, when my leaders encouraged me to get my master's part time, I could not imagine how I could balance a demanding full-time job and a master's program. The experience taught me a lot about prioritization and balancing professional/personal life demands. Now, two years after completing my master's degree, I work to advocate for others to consider part-time academic programs."
Third is the "introduction of new analytical (DMA, AFM) methods to further the fundamental knowledge of polymers."
Gallaschun is involved with the Society of Plastics Engineering. During the pandemic, she and her wife relax by taking their dog, Basil, on long walks through the city parks. They are expecting a baby this spring.
Raj Krishnaswamy, Braskem director of material science innovation, nominated Gallaschun for Rising Stars.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Gallaschun: I am most interested in the area of work to reduce multilayer materials to a single material to improve recyclability.
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Gallaschun: The best advice I have received is to push myself to take opportunities, even if they are outside of my comfort zone. It is so easy to fall into a sea of self-doubt, but I have learned to trust others when they believe I am capable of the challenge. I have found the most personal and professional growth in those moments.
Q: What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Gallaschun: I believe that community outreach (career panels, site tours and mentoring) will help improve the industry in the future. For someone to want to be an engineer or work in the plastics industry, they have to know that it is even a job that exists. As a high school student, I had no idea what a chemical engineer did. My father suggested it since I liked chemistry, but not everyone has someone to suggest it to them. I think it is also important to see someone like you, in the job you want. Visibility is so important.
Q: If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Gallaschun: If I was a CEO of a company, especially a company I had not worked at previously, I would devote substantial time to getting to know as many of my colleagues as possible. I think the people in an organization are the biggest resource and by listening to them, I would have the best chance to identify the organization's goals and challenges.
Q: What job do you really want to have in the future?
Gallaschun: I am blessed to have a job that I really love. For my career, I want to focus on deepening my knowledge of advanced characterization techniques, be that as an individual contributor or a leader. As my career continues, I want to spend more time mentoring others and paying forward the support I received and continue to receive.