Stephanie Brownstein joined the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) as a research engineer working on carbon capture and utilization projects. Prior to joining our staff, she received her bachelor’s and master’s degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University and worked as an environmental engineer in the food manufacturing industry.
You recently agreed to chair PRI’s new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. What interests you about this work and what is your vision of success for this group?
I strongly believe it’s essential for every person to feel supported bringing their authentic self into the workplace – that’s when ideas really come alive and connections thrive. I envision the success of the DEI Committee to include helping create such an environment for PRI employees and beyond. Ultimately the DEI Committee will provide recommendations that effectively create a shift in DEI culture both internal to PRI, such as training and mentorship opportunities, as well as external work interactions, from diverse hiring practices to engaging underrepresented communities.
How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
I don't recall a specific age, but as a child, I always loved building with K’Nex and trying to understand how things worked. I fondly remember making multiple trips to the COSI science museum in Columbus, Ohio, and the Museum of Science in Boston.
Who or what drew you to your field of study?
My high school chemistry teacher Dr. Shaun Heale really pushed my interest in chemistry, and in college Professor Al Center was a wealth of knowledge about chemical engineering in industry. I had an internship in the oil drilling business and at that point made the decision I wanted to use my degree to improve the environment (sustainability, renewable energy, etc.) rather than perpetuate the energy status quo. Chemical engineering can apply to so many different industries, so it was a great springboard into environmental engineering.
What is your background before coming to work at ISTC?
I held multiple positions in the food manufacturing industry including Continuous Improvement Engineer, Environmental Engineer, and EH&S Manager.
What are you looking forward to the most in your new role at ISTC?
Working on projects that will support new technologies and policies to improve the environment, versus just enforcing existing regulations.
What are common misconceptions about your career?
That if you come from industry you don’t care about the environment, or that if you are a scientist you don’t care about business. It’s possible to have a balance.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Being able to implement environmental sustainability projects in the face of low utility prices. Influencing people was also challenging in a different way – it’s never simple trying to get 900 people in a facility to care about waste reduction.
What advice would you give to future scientists?
Get exposure to as many experiences and fields of study as you can. Sometimes figuring out what you don’t want to do can help drive you towards your passion.
Any random facts you could share with us?
I am a CrossFit coach and love spending time outdoors.