Audrey Hoffman, 27
Business Development Engineer, Nexeo Plastics LLC
Audrey Hoffman's interest in plastics came during a Penn State Behrend campus tour the summer before college. She knew she wanted a career in engineering, but she was not set on a specific type.
"When I toured the Penn State campus, they had a large plastics lab, and I remember looking at it and asking the tour guide what it was. He connected me with a plastics professor after the tour, and they were able to talk through some of the jobs they had and places traveled while working in plastics," she said. "That conversation opened the door to plastics and showed me how rewarding a career in this industry could be."
Her first job in the industry was with a college internship at a custom injection molder.
"That summer I helped run injection presses, solve for design issues and work in the tool shop. I learned every role on the floor and worked with the engineers," she said. "This helped me understand every portion of what I was learning and taught me what I did not want to do."
Hoffman graduated with a bachelor's degree in plastics engineering technology. Her first position out of college was at resin distributor Nexeo Plastics LLC in Dublin, Ohio, as a technical connect representative, which she called "a major milestone."
"It was very important to me because I started my plastics career in a position where I was directly applying my college degree. A lot of people in my personal life didn't believe that I could succeed after college, so this role was proof to myself that I could achieve my goals," Hoffman said.
She then became a product specialist, "the role that I credit for really launching my career."
"[The job] was created to have a very narrow focus, but when I continued to excel in the responsibilities, I was given the opportunity to work on larger projects and expand the role," she said. "In the redesigned role, I was able to hone in on my technical knowledge while also developing my understanding in strategic pricing, planning and product management. This role was redesigned to be the main point of contact across all portions of the distribution business, fostering daily collaborations with network planning, accounting, sales, company leadership and suppliers."
Hoffman said the "constant change and development" of the industry are what originally interested her.
"If you were an outsider looking in, you would think that it is a massive industry with so many people, but in reality, every company you talk to is likely related to another or someone knows someone you know," she said. "The communitylike feeling of the plastics industry is something that still surprises me every day."
Q: What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Hoffman: If you look at the plastics industry as a whole, it is mainly driven by males. Even while studying to be an engineer, I had one female professor and I was one of seven females in my graduating class. As an industry, we need to focus on providing opportunities to people based on what they are driven by vs. their gender or color of their skin. Every person in this world has their own challenges or things that they struggle with, so in an industry as broad as plastics, the focus should be on the end goal and not on the attributes of the people that get us there. Diversity and inclusion allow for different perspectives to be brought up at all levels, and we need to have these hard conversations at every level to drive growth.
Q: What has been the biggest impact/challenge on your career from the coronavirus pandemic?
Hoffman: One large challenge that presented itself since the start of the pandemic was maintaining a positive mindset in the workspace. I started to realize how often I was tied in to work by always carrying my work phone and not setting any boundaries. When you do this, you have a tendency to burn yourself out. I realized I was trying to give too much of myself, and that actually had a negative impact on my performance.
To overcome this, I decided I had to set some boundaries. I was able to move all of my work items into a home office, so when I left that room, it was like I was leaving work for the day. Separating out the space has helped a lot with my mindset. Walking into my home office with a clear mind every morning has established a more healthy work-life balance.
Q: What job do you really want to have in the future?
Hoffman: I can't name a title of a job that I want in the future, but I can describe the idea of a job and what I want to offer in that role. In the future, I would love to be a leader of a team. I want to be able to provide this team all the resources they need for their professional and personal growth. I want to be a leader that encourages and challenges their employees. We grow the most through challenges, and looking at the leaders I have respected the most in my career were the ones that challenged me. Maybe someday one of these teammates will type my name as a role model.