Elva Lugo, 35, was born in Colombia and earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Universidad de Los Andes and a doctoral degree in chemical engineering from Texas A&M University. She is the first person in her family to receive a doctorate.
"Coming from a very small town in Colombia, opportunities were limited. However, through my dedication, love for science and unconditional support from my family, I was able to excel at school and get accepted into one of the top engineering universities in the U.S.," she said. "Making my parents feel that their sacrifices were worthy makes me extremely happy and proud."
Lugo's first plastics job was a six-month rotational assignment with Dow Inc.'s Polyethylene Elastomers Technical Service and Development group, an experience where she fell in love with polymer materials science. She is now a research scientist at Dow. "The plastics industry interested me because of the diversity of plastic material applications and the opportunity to have a societal impact toward sustainability via product design and application development," she said.
She joined Dow's Packaging and Specialty Plastics business and has worked in application spaces such as rotational molding, blow molding and pipe. The research scientist's professional work has been recognized by several internal and external awards, including an R&D 100 Award and Dow Technology Center Award.
Lugo also works with the Society of Plastics Engineers, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and the ASTM International F17 Committee for Plastic Piping Systems focused on development of specifications for plastic pipe, fittings and appurtenances. She was recognized as a Luminary Honoree by the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corp. for her contributions to the Hispanic technical community as a leader and role model.
Q: One of our criteria for Rising Stars is whether they are active in plastics industry, manufacturing or their community. How are you involved?
Lugo: I am involved with the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) to provide opportunities for Hispanic engineering students to learn about the work we do at Dow and more broadly in the plastics industry. I help organize networking events as part of the Passport to Dow Program. The networking sessions are designed to give the students an insight into different aspects of life in industry.
I also recently became involved in the preparation of the technical program for the pipe session for the SPE International Polyolefins Conference in Galveston, Texas, where I was as a moderator in March 2023.
In my community, I regularly participate in cleanup campaigns in my neighborhood. I have also collaborated in STEM events for elementary and high school students where science-based demonstrations are performed to increase their interest in STEM subjects.
Q: What should the plastics industry do to expand its efforts in diversity and inclusion?
Lugo: Promote STEM programs for middle and high school students that expose future generations to the plastics industry at an early stage in their education. These programs will spark an interest in polymer materials science and bring awareness to the benefits plastic materials bring to our lives, e.g., help to preserve food and keep it fresh for a longer time. These kinds of STEM programs will encourage students to seek opportunities in the plastics industry and will lead to a more diverse, future pool of aspiring candidates.
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Lugo: My mother is my inspiration and mentor in life. She raised three kids and worked to provide them with the best opportunities for their education. She instilled in me the importance of education and inspired me to choose my own career path. Her dedication and support have enabled me to be where I am today. She taught us the importance of good ethics and hard work, and through all of it, she always highlighted the importance of enjoying what you do.