Chemical Engineering Alumni Spotlight – Collette Lentz
Collette Lentz is a Chemical Engineering alumnus from the University of Iowa. She is currently working at DuPont as the North America Group Application Manager for cultures and dairy enzymes. Learn more about Collette and how she has utilized her ChemE degree throughout her career!
How did you choose the University of Iowa?
I was initially drawn to The University of Iowa in part because of the smaller engineering class sizes that provide a more personal learning experience. I also knew that I wanted to be involved in music, and Iowa offers many opportunities to continue performing in music groups while studying engineering. Additionally, I was impressed with the large number of opportunities available both in and out of the classroom that I believed would result in a well-rounded college experience.
Describe your career path and the work you are currently doing
I started working at Genencor in Cedar Rapids, IA after I graduated from The University of Iowa College of Engineering with a degree in chemical engineering. I had previously completed a co-op at Cargill as an undergraduate, and during that time I enjoyed working in industrial environments, but I missed working in the lab. Genencor allowed me to experience the best of both worlds, where some weeks I would work in the lab running bench top or pilot scale equipment and other weeks I would travel to customer plant sites to assist in technical questions and new product trials. I learned all about enzymes and fermentation for use in grain processing and fuel ethanol industries, and the best part of my job was developing new and innovative products.
After a few years, I had become passionate about the food industry and I researched how to apply my engineering degree to develop new food products. I received my M.S. in Applied Nutrition so that I would have expertise in areas of food science. I then accepted a position working at DuPont in Kansas City for using enzymes to develop new dairy food products. Similar to Genencor, I worked on lab experiments and visited customer plant sites in the food space.
I have continued applying my chemical engineering and nutrition degrees to run pilot scale equipment, develop new innovative food ingredients, and assist food manufacturers with developing new products. As I gained technical expertise in the food world, I began to take on more leadership and management responsibilities. Now I am the North America Group Application Manager for cultures and dairy enzymes at International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) where I lead a team of 5 scientists. We work on developing new ingredients for dairy & plant-based yogurt, cheese, and other products that use cultures and enzymes, such as lactose-free milk. The dairy and plant-based alternative products that we help develop can be found throughout your local grocery store (e.g. coconut yogurt) and at numerous food service restaurants (e.g. likely at your local pizza place).
I also became more involved in business over the last few years, and I just recently took on another role as the North America Regional Industry Leader for Dairy & Fermented Plant-Based Enzymes. For this position I help lead the business on developing strategies for long-term growth.
How did the ChemE Department prepare you for your career
While studying Chemical Engineering at The University of Iowa, I established a strong technical foundation that I have used throughout my career. As simple as it may sound, the engineering education I received within the ChemE department taught me how to think like an engineer. This has been invaluable, because knowing how to approach problems and work through them with an engineering mindset can be applied to every field and every career opportunity of interest. Additionally, I learned great networking skills, which will always be necessary and critical for a successful career. This has helped me to transition more into management as my career has developed over the years.
What advice would you want to share with current or future ChemE students?
As a student it can sometimes feel frustrating to learn information that you think you may never use in your professional career. While it is true that you will not use 100% of the information you learn and it may seem overwhelming at times, it’s important to remember that these times provide a lot of valuable lessons outside of the technical knowledge gained. For instance, you will learn proper time management, problem solving, and critical thinking skills that are all essential in your professional and personal life.
It is also helpful to try out internships/co-ops to figure out what you like, and to of course enjoy your time throughout your college life! It will all fly by too quickly!