Mary Brown, 26
Analytical Chemist, Chroma Color Corp.
Mary Brown was raised in Albemarle, N.C., and graduated from Pfeiffer University in 2016 with a degree in biological sciences and a minor in mathematics. She graduated with her master's degree in chemistry from the University of North Carolina in July 2020. In August, she was accepted into the graduate program at North Carolina State University, where she is working toward her master's degree in statistics.
Brown's first plastics job was working in the analytical lab with specialty color and additive concentrate supplier Chroma Color Corp. in Salisbury, N.C. "I didn't expect to come out of college and start working in the plastics industry, but once I joined Chroma, I fell in love with the industry," she said. "I saw some great opportunities here and I get to work with what I love everyday: chemistry!"
When she started working at Chroma right out of college, it was a learning curve, Brown said.
"I was new to the industry and had a whole analytical lab to maintain by myself," the analytical chemist said. "Projects were piling in and it became difficult to know where to start with each one and what to do with my day-to-day work."
Consultant and color expert Ron Harris emailed her, "Burn this phrase into your brain: Compared to what?" To help her better understand what to do with the projects then and future projects going forward, Brown would remember the email.
"From that point forward, when any new project came across my desk, my first thought was always: What am I comparing this to? It helped me better understand the full process as well as my role in the process," she said. "I printed the email out and to this day, it is still taped to my desk for me to reference. It is a great reminder that one piece of advice can be more helpful than you think."
Brown is involved with Chroma's Colors Steering Committee, Management Review Team, Internal Audit Team and Safety Committee, and she is working toward an internal green belt certification for Six Sigma. She enjoys going on walks with her 2-year-old golden retriever named Cooper and watching Carolina basketball.
Jeff Smink, Chroma vice president of technology, nominated Brown for Rising Stars.
Q: What is your greatest achievement?
Brown: When I first started working in the lab at our Salisbury location, we were in need of a materials library on almost all of our equipment. Most of our analytical equipment is used to identify base resins, quantify the amount of UV in a sample, quantify the amount of antioxidant in a sample and determine any sources of contamination in a sample. All of these tasks are difficult, and in some cases impossible, to do on an analytical instrument if you do not have the standards in a library to compare to the sample.
My greatest achievement has been building up this standard library so that all of our testing can be done internally. There were many iterations, situations that occurred before we started noticing some positive results, but seeing how the lab has developed has been very rewarding. I've also added new equipment to the lab, which has only extended our capabilities and internal support. I would also like to give some credit to Dr. Ron [Harris] and Jeff Smink – without their advice and practical minds, the process would've been even more difficult.
Another one of my greatest achievements was being able to finish a master's program while working full time. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't easily the hardest thing I've ever done. There were so many early mornings, late nights and long weekends. Free time was not something I had much of and I definitely missed having a social life. My job can be mentally draining at times so homework was the last thing I wanted to think about after a long day at work. I knew that the end result would be worth it as it would help better myself and help with my career goals. It was definitely worth it but very challenging.
Q: What is your biggest failure and what it taught you?
Brown: Upon starting my career in the plastics industry, I was always afraid to ask for help. It took me a while to realize that everyone around me was more than willing to try and answer any questions that I had. I learned that asking questions and asking for help isn't a sign of weakness and that at some point, everyone has had to ask for help. Once I learned this, I became a lot more confident in my work and in myself.
Q: What about the plastics industry surprises you?
Brown: I think what surprised me the most is how much of the process relates to chemistry and engineering. It wasn't until I joined the Chroma team and started earning my degree in chemistry that I really realized how technical the process is.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Brown: This was, without a doubt, the easiest question for me to answer. I'm lucky enough to say that the person that I look up to is also my mentor, Dr. Ron Harris. He has contributed so many years and so much knowledge to this industry and I could only hope to someday be half of the person that he is. I could never thank him enough for believing in me from day one and always being there with words of wisdom. His practical approach is what intrigues me the most about him and I could easily write a book about all the life lessons he has taught me. On any given day at any given time, you can find Dr. Ron in his basement playing with his microscopes or taking his beautiful dogs for a walk.
Q: If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Brown: I am a strong believer that communication is key. I would spend my first days getting to know my team and everyone that contributes to the success of the company. As a CEO, I would drive vision and values, but I would want to hear opinions from the people that will support the organization. Having a good relationship with your workforce is important, and people will work hard for you and the organization when they know they are valued, respected and appreciated.