Danica Chin ’13 Named A 2015 STEP Award Emerging Leader

Momentum logoRepublished with permission of Momentum,

a School of Engineering electronic publication.



Danica Chin CaptionDanica Chin ’13, has been named a 2015 STEP Award Emerging Leader by The Manufacturing Institute and featured in the most recent issue of  Diversity Woman Magazine.

Soon after graduating with a Chemical Engineering degree, Chin started working at Bayer MaterialScience in Sheffield, MA. A native of Stratford, CT, Chin entered the BRIDGE program when she came to UConn, which prepares underrepresented students for the engineering curriculum with an intensive five weeks of studying mathematics, chemistry, physics and computer programming.

“I loved BRIDGE,” she said. “It was important because it did so much for me. It introduced me to topics I had never known before.” Not having had classes in computer science and physics in high school, she said, the extra programs gave her an advantage.

“I knew what I was getting involved in when the Fall semester arrived.”

She now works as a process engineer at Bayer MaterialScience.

“I love it at Bayer,” she said. “They’re all real supportive of what I want to do. My boss is very open to things that I want to work on. I  make sure our production lines are working properly and that the equipment is running properly. It’s like a small company within a company, and I’m the owner.”

She said the STEP Award and being featured in the magazine are all the more rewarding because of the obstacles that she faced along the way, particularly an anxiety disorder that made taking tests a struggle. But she persisted, got through school and is now in a leadership position at a major company.

“I just think it’s important to let people know that they can do it, even with obstacles in the way,” she said.


Grad Student Spotlight: Christine Endicott

By Sydney Souder

Graduate student Christine Endicott is a true UConn Husky. Although a Vermont native, she received her B.S. in Chemical Engineering at UConn in 2008. Now, she’s back and in the second year of her PhD studies. And more? She’s still a Gampel season ticket holder.

“I had such a positive experience here as an undergraduate. I love the campus, and the environment in the Chemical Engineering department.” She adds, “My advisor, Dr. Srivastava, has been a mentor to me since I started at UConn back in 2004, so it was an obvious choice to return and work with him to complete my PhD.

The research performed here at UConn is highly relevant to today’s engineering challenges. Christine is currently trying to develop new antibiotic treatment methods for infectious diseases. “I love that I’m working on the potential next generation of infection control. Antibiotic resistance is a real problem, and the idea that I could save lives is extremely rewarding.”

Christine describes the graduate student environment here as one of comradery and collaboration. She and other students often take breaks together, and use each other’s experiences to help each other view their work in different lights. Pursuing her PhD at UConn has also provided her opportunities to grow outside of the lab. Christine has taught physics at UConn’s summer BRIDGE program, and has gained experience in writing grants by preparing a proposal for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As a National Science Foundation GK12 Fellow, Christine also interacts with students at AI Prince Technical High School in nearby Hartford to stimulate their interest in STEM fields.

“UConn is a great place to pursue a PhD. It has the right combination of great science, professors who care about you as a scientist and as a person, and great college basketball.”




Chemical Engineers Acknowledged as Distinguished Alumni

By Sydney Souder

Picture of Donald VictoryThe University of Connecticut’s Academy of Distinguished Engineers inducted two Chemical Engineering alumni in a day of celebration on May 1, 2014. Donald J. Victory (Cheg ’81) and John Wyatt (Cheg ’73) returned to their alma mater to receive the prestigious acknowledgment. They both took the opportunity to reengage with the faculty and students from Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering during their day of honor. The Academy grants membership to truly outstanding alumni for distinguished professional achievement contributing to engineering and engineering management in the highest tradition of the School. To be eligible, candidates must have graduated from the University at least ten years prior, and must have made meritorious engineering, managerial or policy contributions throughout their career.

Picture of John Wyatt

Mr. Victory is Process & Risk Engineering Manager for ExxonMobil Development Company in Houston, TX. He leads a global team responsible for process design, process safety, and facilities layout for major upstream projects. The UConn alumnus began his career with Exxon Production Research Company as a facilities engineer in 1981 and advanced through a series of engineering design, operations, and project management positions in the U.S., Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, Qatar and Japan. His contributions include the development of the Controlled Freeze Zone (CFZ) process for more efficient CO2 removal from natural gas. Mr. Victory led the conceptual design of an offshore platform that provided one-third of the domestic gas supply to peninsular Malaysia, and he is listed as an inventor on over a dozen U.S. patents.

John Wyatt, Ph.D., is a Senior Advisor for Carmagen Engineering with expertise in the areas of reactor engineering and exothermic reactor safety. Dr. Wyatt retired from ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company (EMRE) as Team Leader for the Photobioreactor Development team. During his 32 year career with EMRE, he was involved in many core refining processes and cutting-edge technologies. Dr. Wyatt was the Commercial Technology Leader for fixed bed reactor technology and is co-inventor on seven reactor engineering patents. He was instrumental in the development of experimental capabilities and testing protocols to assess the exothermic potential of new catalysts and chemical processes. He also identified the lead cause of temperature non-uniformity in exothermic hydroprocessing reactors and led the implementation of a solution that improved safety and saved ExxonMobil millions of dollars. Dr. Wyatt was an adjunct professor at The Stevens Institute of Technology from 1996-2000.

“These individuals bring lasting honor to their alma mater as practitioners and as citizens,” said Dean Kazerounian during their formal induction ceremony.

DuPont’s Mark Vergnano: From UConn to Global Leader

Screen shot 2013-06-26 at 1.29.22 PMRepublished with permission of Momentum,
a School of Engineering electronic publication.


Mark P Vergnano

In January, Mark P. Vergnano (B.S. Chemical Engineering, ‘80), Executive Vice President of DuPont, was named to become Chief Executive Officer of DuPont’s  $8 billion Performance Chemicals segment, which will be spun off  during the second quarter of 2015 as a stand-alone company.  It is just the latest in a long series of laurels for Vergnano, whose 33 year career with DuPont has spanned top executive positions in seven of the company’s units across two continents.

As Executive Vice President, Vergnano has had responsibility for about half of DuPont’s total businesses, including Performance Chemicals, Electronics & Communications, and Safety & Protection along with oversight of sales/marketing/communications and safety/sustainability. When the new Performance Chemicals company is launched, he notes, “It will be the 12th or 13th largest chemical company in the world. The Titanium Technologies and Chemicals & Fluoroproducts units that make up Performance Chemicals are both global leaders in their industries, so we will be in a very good position from the start.”

He explains that the major products within Titanium Technologies are whiteners or opacifiers used in a wide range of applications, from toothpaste to paint to plastics. The company’s Chemicals & Fluoroproducts business produces scores of specialty products, including disinfectants, refrigerants for stationary and mobile air conditioning, non-stick Teflon® coatings for pans, and unique industrial polymers used in automobiles, solar energy and electronics.

As Vergnano prepares the Performance Chemicals company for its debut as an independent entity, he notes, the company “Will continue to differentiate itself from competitors by working hand in hand on developing applications with our key customers, which include companies such as Gore, known for its top-selling Gore-tex™ brand of products.  With another large customer, Sherwin-Williams, we are working to develop paints that provide one-application full coverage and also have great cleaning capacity, thanks to our unique titanium dioxide opacifiers.  Batteries are a new market for us as electric vehicles grow more popular. EVs require batteries that can operate at a higher temperature and for longer durations than they have ever had to before. By using fluorochemical based electrolytes, these batteries can operate in higher temperature conditions for longer periods of time resulting in longer charges.  We are also in the midst of introducing our next generation of sustainable mobile refrigerents, Opteum® YF, which has the lowest global warming potential of any refrigerant in the industry.”

He remarks, “As a separate company, we will have the ability to be more flexible and nimbler than DuPont, giving us the freedom to make investment decisions that might not have been a priority within the DuPont structure. We will be a strong cash-generating company with a goal to deliver cash back to our shareholders in the form of strong dividends and returns.”

Storied Career

Vergnano’s UConn chemical engineering education honed his analytical acumen and helped him succeed in a career blending engineering and business leadership.  “I believe that an engineering background gave me the advantage to solve problems in a very logical and disciplined way,” he remarks.

During his decorated career with DuPont, he has been involved in many exciting developments. Two in particular stand out.  “Early in my career, during the 1980s, I was a member of a very small team that developed Tyvek™ Homewrap®. At that time, the product had about $2 million in sales. Traditionally, builders applied insulation and maybe a sheathing board on top of that. We built the business almost from the ground up. We would go out and talk with architects and builders and convince them of the advantages of our Tyvek® wrap. Today, it’s the standard in building construction because Tyvek® Homewrap saves homeowners money on their heating and cooling bills, reduces water damage, and extends the durability of home construction. Today, sales of Tyvek® Homewrap approach a quarter of a billion dollars.”

Another point of pride for Vergnano is more recent. “About three years ago I was asked to lead an effort to reposition the company from that of a traditional chemical company to a science company. We developed a position called, ‘Welcome to the Global Collaboratory,’ which reflects DuPont’s commitment to bringing our science together with different stakeholders from the private and public sectors to help solve global problems like food, energy and protection.  Using that positioning as a basis, we have revamped the company over the last three years through innovation, acquisition and divestitures. The success of our new positioning is apparent when we recruit on college campuses and describe our work: it’s rewarding to watch students’ faces light up and to see their excitement when we talk about a company that is truly making the world a better, safer, healthier place for people to live in.”

Vergnano has risen through the ranks of engineering and top administrative posts at DuPont, which he joined soon after earning his B.S. at UConn, as a process engineer in the former Fibers Department in Richmond, Virginia. There, he was involved in manufacturing and technical assignments for the Kevlar® and Tyvek™ products while also earning his MBA through an executive program offered by Virginia Commonwealth University. Over the next decade, Vergnano and his wife, UConn alumna Betsy (formerly Elizabeth Reddington, CLAS ‘81), relocated to Wilmington, Delaware and subsequently to Geneva, Switzerland, where he served as marketing manager for Typar® carpet backings.

In 1993, he was appointed European Regional Business Manager at DuPont Nonwovens, and in 1996 the Vergnanos relocated again to Richmond, where he assumed the role of Global Business Manager for the Teflon® fiber business. He became Global Business Director for the Nomex® business in October 1998 and then was appointed Global Business Director for Tyvek™/Typar® in March 2001, relocating once more to Wilmington. He served as Vice President and General Manager of DuPont Nonwovens from 2003-05, Vice President and General Manager of DuPont Building Innovations from 2005-06 and Group Vice President of DuPont Safety & Protection from 2006-09.  Outside of DuPont, Mark is the proud father of his two adult daughters, Elise and Haley, who are living and working in Boston and New York, respectively.

UConn Years

Vergnano loved his UConn years. “The School of Engineering is not huge, and the Chemical Engineering Department in particular is not very big. But that is the basis for some of my fondest memories. I knew my classmates well, because it was the same 20 to 30 people in all of my engineering courses. In fact, I am still very close with two former classmates, Ray Gansley and Chris Siemer. We have stayed in touch since graduation and make a point of seeing each other at least once a year. Because UConn is a public university, we had the opportunity to take courses outside of engineering and to explore other disciplines. UConn offers a well-rounded environment.  It also holds the dearest memory for me, since it is where I met my wife, Betsy. ”

His advice to engineering students?  “I think engineering is a fantastic discipline,” he says. “It’s not an endpoint, but rather a great background that will serve you throughout your career. Don’t think of engineering as merely a discipline. I’ve been in manufacturing, sales, marketing, R&D, and business leadership…I always fall back on my engineering training, which is rooted in logic, analysis, and problem solving. It’s a tremendous field, and today we need engineers more than ever.”

Vergnano, who was inducted into UConn’s Academy of Distinguished Engineers in 2005, serves on the Board of, Johnson Controls, Inc. and the U.S. National Safety Council; and is a member of the Advisory Boards for the UConn School of Engineering and the University of Delaware Lerner College of Business and Economics. The Vergnanos are committed to making a college education affordable for dedicated students through their Vergnano/Reddington Family Scholarship Fund at UConn.

Vergnano will deliver the keynote presentation at the 2014 AIChE Northeast Regional Student Conference in Storrs on April 5th, during the conference banquet.


UConn Engineering Honors John (Jack) Prior

prior2013During a gala event on May 2 at the Storrs campus, the School of Engineering honored 10 exceptional alumni and friends as 2013 inductees into the UConn Academy of Distinguished Engineers. Nearly 100 attendees helped to honor the new inductees, each of whom spoke of the profound influence of UConn Engineering in shaping their careers.  One inductee was an alumnus of the Chemical Engineering department, John Prior.

John (Jack) Prior graduated from UConn in 1986 with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering, and then went on to earn a doctorate of science (Sc.D.) in Chemical Engineering from MIT, focusing his research on monitoring and controlling bioreactors for the production of biopharmaceuticals.

Jack’s current position is Senior Director for Bioprocess Engineering at Genzyme, where he oversees a team of 14 engineers responsible for improving the manufacturing processes  for these and other biopharmaceutical compounds that can be incredibly challenging to produce.

Jack’s work often places him in the “front lines” in addressing critical challenges. For example, he led company efforts to identify and correct the cause of a Thymoglobulin production challenge at the company’s facility in France in 2007. His efforts enabled patients to continue to receive this life-saving therapy. In 2008, he led efforts to understanding and address product comparability issues that had previously delayed the introduction of adult treatments for Pompe’s disease in the US.  Jack also played a key role the troubleshooting effort surrounding a viral contamination episode the company experienced in 2009.

In addition to Jack’s important management and manufacturing technology development role in the biopharmaceutical industry, he has given back to UConn directly by serving as a member of the Chemical Engineering Industrial Advisory Board since 2006.  In this capacity, he generously gives his time to provide critique, guidance, and support to the Chemical Engineering program. The CBE department would like to extend its congratulations to Jack Prior for his induction into the UConn Academy of Distinguished Engineers.