DuPont engineer earns top honor
WASHINGTON, W.Va. – Following a career path from the classroom to the science lab earned a local DuPont employee a high honor few achieve.
Linda Ankrom, of Marietta, is among the first women at DuPont to be named a DuPont Fellow, which is the highest technical professional level in the company. Of the seven new DuPont Fellows, five are women, a first, Ankrom said.
At DuPont, Ankrom said the company has various career ladders, including one for someone who wants to stay in technology or science.
“Each career path has a ceiling,” she said. “If you are a technical person and you want to stay on the technical career path the last promotion you can hope to get is DuPont Fellow, the top technical career level.”
Ankrom said there are 27 DuPont Fellows.
“Throughout DuPont’s history, our science and technology has been a main source of our competitive advantage, enabling us to drive innovation and transform markets for more than two centuries,” said Douglas Muzyka, DuPont senior vice president and chief science and technology officer .
“As our company’s most distinguished scientists and engineers, DuPont Fellows create, develop and commercialize new technologies. They explore and employ emerging science, and leverage key learnings and capabilities across the company to maximize the impact and value derived from our scientific investments,” Muzyka said.
Ankrom said she was honored to be in a group of inspiring people. She also is among the few in the history of the program to not have a doctorate.
“What is interesting for the public, especially for young ladies who might want to get into engineering for the DuPont company, of the seven promoted this year to DuPont Fellow, five were women,” she said. “This class with five women were the first female DuPont Fellows in the history of the company. So we made history.”
Among Ankrom’s achievements at the company was the integration of a new polymer compounding technologies that tailor engineering plastics, including “metalizing” DuPont Crastin PBT resins for automotive headlamps, now standard on millions of vehicles around the world.
Ankrom said using polymers in a manufacturing process makes it less expensive to change the design of an item.
“Instead of making new dies that can cost millions they can make a new mold for the resin that may cost $100,000,” she said. “It reduces the costs to the customers.”
Karl Boelter, plant manager at DuPont Washington Works, said Ankrom’s work has an impact outside the Washington Works.
“Linda’s impact in the automotive industry alone is enormous. The processes she designed to tailor the properties of our products for the automotive industry have led to safer, lighter, more economical and more fuel efficient vehicles,” he said. “Her impact on the men and women she has mentored throughout her career is even more significant. She is truly a role model for men and women aspiring to technical careers at DuPont.”
Before she came to DuPont in August 1980 Ankrom taught math in Marietta. A native of Youngstown, Ohio, she attended Ohio State University where she graduated with a math education degree. After graduation she got a teaching job with Marietta City Schools.
“While I was doing my student teaching I realized that maybe teaching was not for me,” she said. “In my three years of teaching I just really had a hankering for a more technical career,”
Ankrom said her father, who was also an engineer, told her she should have been an engineer.
Ankrom said she looked into engineering classes at Ohio University.
“They were not very encouraging that a school teacher could make it through an engineering program,” she said. “I started taking some classes and then it became obvious this was really for me and OU was getting less nervous about it.”
After a time she resigned from her teaching job and went to engineering school full time.
“I started out to get a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and along the way I was invited to go into their master’s program,” she said.
Ankrom did an internship at the plant in 1978 and then applied for a job in 1980. She did her internship in the same department where she works, working in polymer science. At the time she said the field was not considered a traditional chemical engineering field.
“I started out in research,” she said. “In my field we make our products go into various applications. What we do with our plastics, like nylon and polyester, those base polymers, we remelt them in a piece of equipment called an extruder and we mix them with various ingredients called compounding.”
Ankrom has worked on a compound using the Sorona polymer used as carpet fibers and other commercial capabilities.
“My part has always been in the way to make a product useful and cost effective,” she said. “My background is to do the process.”
While there have been many successes, Ankrom said there have been times when she and other engineers will find a raw material that looks promising at first; however, as they work with it more and see how it works they find it will not work as they had hoped.
Ankrom said she has found there is one thing she learned in her teacher education that she uses in her career now.
“My answer often surprises them because the answer is my education classes I had when I was being taught how to be a teacher,” she said. “In the role of engineer you are a support role to the business and to operations so you find a lot of times to get some of your technical program accomplished you are a kind of a salesperson or motivator.”
Ankrom said that all is part of what is covered in teacher education. She said she learned she was cut out for the teaching and mentoring part, not the discipline part.
Ankrom and her husband have two daughters, both of whom have followed her scientific path.
“One is a Ph.D. chemical engineer who works for Merck Pharmaceutical and my other daughter has her bachelor’s in chemical engineering but she used it as a vehicle to become a doctor of veterinarian medicine in Illinois,” she said.