It was a straightforward high school chemistry assignment, one repeated every year in classrooms throughout the country: identify the chemical ingredients used in various household products, including toothpaste, soap, and shampoo. But for Shauntel Poulson, this exercise offered a window into a reality she hadn’t considered before—how chemistry was entwined in her life from the moment she showered in the morning until she brushed her teeth at night.
Connecting Chemistry to the Real World
“We had been writing formulas in class for different chemicals, but this assignment connected the chemicals to things you use every day. I realized that chemistry isn’t just theory. It’s relevant. That project really opened my eyes to seeing what chemical engineers do, and I thought it would be cool to make household products.”
Developing Products at Procter & Gamble
Today, Shauntel works as a chemical engineer for one of the world's industry leaders, Procter & Gamble. Chances are you won't go through the day without using one of their products, whether it’s Crest toothpaste, Tide laundry detergent, Cover Girl makeup, Pantene shampoo, or Dawn dishwashing liquid.
Shauntel's job involves the overall process of manufacturing a product, from start to finish. If she had chosen a career as a chemist, she says, "I may have worked on one aspect of the chemical formula that goes into a product." But as a chemical engineer, "I'm responsible for knowing how all the chemicals come together and are processed on a larger scale."
Collaborating Across the Board
“It's critical for the engineer to understand all aspects of a product," Shauntel says, and much of her day is spent collaborating with different departments in the company. As a member of the R&D (research and development) department, she works closely with marketing, product packaging, and the supply chain. “My job is definitely for people who don't want to sit at a desk all day," she says. “Everything involves collaboration.”
Shauntel also loves finding solutions that produce better products. “My approach to solving a problem is realizing that there are a million ways to solve it, so you have to be creative in finding the best way.”
Travel to Indonesia
Shauntel was thrilled when her company sent her to Indonesia for three months to open a new plant. "Basically, we started with nothing more than a field, and finished with a fully operating plant.” It was a defining moment for her as an engineer. “In school you design things, but it’s all theory,” she says. “In Indonesia I actually got to see the designs implemented. It was a very hands-on project.” The trip was also exciting for her because it was the first time she had been out of the country. “I really liked learning about a new culture and working with the people there.”
“I get a lot of respect as an engineer,” Shauntel says, “and it's always wonderful to go into a store and see the products I've worked on sitting on the shelf!"