Eye on EESI Research

Odette Mina (photo)

July 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Odette Mina works quickly. It's a skill she honed through a career working for engineering consulting firms.

Now she is bringing that work ethic to her new job, as managing director of the Energy and Environmental Sustainability Laboratories (EESL) at Penn State.

"I'm pretty excited with how much we've been able to accomplish in just five months," said Mina, who joined EESL in February, becoming its first managing director.

Mina has hit the ground running. In her first few months, she has helped set rates for the use of all EESL equipment and has pushed forward on a new website and other marketing materials to help raise the facility's profile.

Funded by Penn State Institute of Energy and the Environment, EESL is a collection of high-tech laboratories located across campus. The goal is to give researchers shared access to equipment they may need to conduct their research, but might not have funding to purchase on their own.

"We are a multi-user facility, open to all users across Penn State, other academic institutions and industry partners," she said. "We really provide state-of-the-art instruments they wouldn't necessarily have the ability to access if we didn't have these facilities available to them."

EESL's impressive list of equipment includes instrumentation that can reveal the ages of ancient materials through high-precision carbon dating and that offer high-resolution 3-D imaging of objects, among many others.

Managing all these labs may seem like a big job, but it's one Mina was ready for.

"I managed laboratory services for commercial labs for many years, and then I managed environmental health and safety consulting services for many more years, she said. "So I have pretty strong experience in the business aspect of managing science and engineering, with a focus on laboratories."

Mina had previously worked for about 30 years for engineering consulting firms. While she has a science background, receiving her bachelor's degree in chemistry, Mina said she was pulled into the management side of the consulting businesses.

She followed that path, eventually returning to school for a master's degree in business administration. She would go on to manage the Philadelphia office for a major environmental consulting firm, overseeing 40 engineers, scientists and others who work there.

Despite her success, Mina said she regretted not pursuing the path of engineering. With the support of her husband and children, Mina had a chance to refocus her career on science, and she jumped.

Mina returned to school once more and received a master's degree in environmental engineering from Penn State in 2012 and went on to obtain her Ph.D. in agricultural and biological engineering in 2016.

"I have three kids and at the time two of them were in college and one was in high school," Mina said. "So we were all competing for the highest GPA. It was pretty cool."

Within a few months of graduating, Mina learned IEE was looking for a managing director for EESL.

"It's was great timing," she said.

Now, Mina is enjoying the challenges provided by her new job.

"This job was really perfect for me," she said. "Because it has the element of laboratories, it has the element of business, the element of marketing, and business development. You know, I did all that. And I'm very comfortable with it.

"And now I have my Ph.D. and I'm more comfortable with the science side of things," she said. "I still love business, managing people, clients and growing a business. I did all that in my previous life. I didn't think I would find a job that had all the elements of what I wanted to do."