Colleen Lavelle, 25
Technical Service and Development Engineer, M. Holland Co.
Colleen Lavelle graduated from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering and a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics. Her first job in the plastics industry was a lab engineer internship at T&T Marketing, a distributor of polymer resins and compounds to the wire and cable market, where she worked on a product development project.
"I was initially drawn to the internship because of the hands-on research and development work I'd get to partake in. I enjoyed working with plastics materials because they are very versatile and extremely functional across many industries," she said. "I also enjoyed the challenge of creating a product that balanced properties in a new way to offer tangible benefits."
She is now technical service and development engineer for resin distributor M. Holland Co., which acquired T&T Marketing in 2017.
"I have become a point person in communicating with M. Holland engineers and account managers for testing inquiries. I have also worked closely on M. Holland's intern program, from procuring resumes, assisting in interviews and managing day-to-day workflows," she said.
Lavelle has attended several customer trials, material production runs, conferences and quarterly business review meetings to further her knowledge and experience.
"Prior to COVID-19, I was discussing a shadowing program with the M. Holland engineers to attend troubleshooting calls, with the hope of potentially formalizing a training program that would create a pipeline of development engineering talent for M. Holland," she said.
Lavelle is a member of the Society of Plastics Engineers and Wire Association International. She regularly attends SPE webinars, plans to attend Antec 2021, attended the International Wire and Cable Symposium the last three years and gave a product presentation in 2019. She was invited to speak to the chemical engineering students at the Lafayette College American Institute of Chemical Engineers annual symposium last year, but it has been postponed due to the coronavirus.
Her father worked in refrigerants as a chemical engineer for 20 years before switching to become a high school chemistry teacher, and her mother has a mathematics degree and works in an elementary school library. "My parents have always inspired me and there are clear similarities with our educational choices," Lavelle said.
She enjoys camping with her family, playing cornhole in a local league, going out to eat with friends, and bingeing television shows. Lavelle also volunteers at her church's monthly community breakfast.
Patty Berman, M. Holland Co. director of human resources, nominated Lavelle for Rising Stars.
Q: What is your greatest achievement?
Lavelle: Obtaining my mathematics degree was my greatest achievement. To clarify, the chemical engineering degree I received required significant effort and was an important step on my career path. The mathematics degree, however, was an achievement because it required a different way of thinking and writing that did not come naturally to me.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Lavelle: Coronavirus has caused several challenges to my work — from shutdowns to delays in information relaying and shipping. It has challenged us all!
A more technical challenge I've experienced is with 3D printing materials. The technology is fairly new and there are limited industry specifications for testing, so we are currently working on standardizing our test methods so materials can be compared accurately.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Lavelle: Being in the lab at M. Holland, I get to see many new technologies. The most interesting to me is sustainable packaging. It's not a market I've worked in a lot, but I am fascinated with the technology that goes into making five-layer films that are two millimeters thick. There was already a lot of consideration put into packaging for food preservation and FDA regulations. Now sustainability concerns are taking a front seat and driving the market in a new direction. I think it will be interesting to watch!
Q: What is the best advice you have ever received?
Lavelle: "Listen to the problem and answer the question." This has been very helpful in building productive communication skills. Listening can often be overlooked in communication, but we have two ears and one mouth. Active listening to understand the question or problem and a focused response prevents miscommunication, maintains efficiency and often results in a more satisfied client. Curiosity is valuable and is also important in a technical setting; the advice largely pertains to technical communication such as lab reports.
Q: What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Lavelle: I think outreach at high schools and colleges highlighting the functionality and sustainability measures related to plastics and the plastics industry would be helpful. Plastics have a bad reputation due to sustainability concerns, and there is work to be done to repair the reputation. Making those efforts known to young people at diverse high schools and colleges could go a long way in inspiring them to be a part of the plastics industry and potentially be a part of the change for the better.