Catherine T. Hunt
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Catherine T. Hunt grew up in Bronxville, New York, one of seven children. Her father was a chemist at Allied Chemical Company, and Katie often went to work with him and always had questions for him about why things are the way they are. A good chemistry teacher in high school only strengthened her determination to be a chemist. To that end she entered Smith College. She loved her classes and her professors, with whom she remains in close contact. During her summers she worked at Stauffer Chemical Company. She realized she needed a PhD, so she applied to the University of California system, choosing Davis. There she worked with Alan Balch and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). She met Linda Benner there, her lifelong friend. Hunt accepted a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University, studying with Drs. Ian Armitage, Robert Shulman, and James Prestegard. She also joined a bicycle club, where she met her future husband. When she began to interview for jobs she found Linda Benner and several others from Davis at Rohm and Haas; she also found a friendly and supportive atmosphere there, and took the job. She later became a process chemist and then lab manager of the Bridesburg plant. In 1991, she gave birth to her son during her assignment at the plant. When downsized from Rohm and Haas in 1995 she moved back to Spring House in Analytical Research, ultimately becoming the director of the Analytical and Computational Competency Network. Persuaded to run for president of American Chemical Society (ACS), Hunt developed a platform emphasizing education in science, including legislators, the media, the public, and the next generation. ACS also increased its emphasis on outreach, collaboration, and innovation. After her year in office, Hunt returned to Rohm and Haas as the first Corporate Sustainability Director, as well as resuming her former role in Technology Partnerships. When Dow acquired Rohm and Haas on April 1, 2009, Hunt move into an expanded role in their External Technologies Group (ET); soon to be renamed: Innovation Sourcing and Sustainable Technologies. She has swapped management for leadership, finding excitement in new ways of thinking and in communicating to different audiences. Hunt discusses balancing her career and home life; keeping healthy and fit with her bicycling and yoga; and the many changes she has experienced in her life at Rohm and Haas, now Dow. She talks about mentoring and the importance of reaching out. She regards this latest transition as a time to reevaluate goals, strengths, possibilities. Hunt has been awarded many honors but feels especially proud of the Smith Medal. As the first ACS president from the University of California, Davis, she won the Outstanding Alumna award, of which she is also extremely proud, especially as it is a very large school.
|1981||University of California, Davis||PhD||Chemistry|
Rohm and Haas
Dow Chemical Company
S. J. Talucci Quality Team Award
Best Paper Award, Association of Nonwoven Fabrics Industry (INDATEC)
Women in Science Delegation to Cuba (one of 25 women chosen), People to People
Rohm and Haas Vice President's Award
Award of Accomplishments, The School of Pharmacy, Howard University, Washington, DC
Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Best 50 Women in Business Award in Pennsylvania
Elected President of the American Chemical Society
Smith College Medal, Smith College Board of Trustees
Charles D. Hurd Lecturer, Northwestern University
Outstanding Alumnus(-a) of the Year Award, University of California, Davis
Fellow, Inaugural Class, American Chemical Society
Table of Contents
Grew up in Bronxville, New York. Middle child of seven. Father chemist at Allied Chemical Company. Always liked to figure out how things worked. Often went to father's workplace. Played bridge. Public high school. Goodbiology and chemistry teachers. Special project on soil analysis. Summer jobs insuperintendent's office.
Smith College, previously attended by mother, grandmother, aunt, and two sisters. Majored in chemistry, despite father's discouragement. Few women in chemistry. Initial difficulties and importance of communication. Helen Ruppe her labpartner. Milton Soffer and identifying unknowns; sniff test. Francis Via. Kenneth Hellman. Worked on flame retardants at Stauffer Chemical Companyduring summers. Thomas Hardy. One summer in Berkeley, California. Industrylabs versus college labs. Choir; a capella singing. Other classes at Smith. German immersion. Love of Cézanne. Continued bicycling. Close and continuingrelationships with professors.
Wanted to be experiment designer, not technician; needed PhD. Attracted toUniversity of California, especially Davis. Siblings' careers. Ronald Rusay. Worked with Alan Balch instead of Gerd LaMar. Teaching assistant for Sevgi Sumer Friedrich. Thought she would be professor. Teaching chemistry as a wayof thinking applicable to all of life. Balch's lab; his personality and mentoringstyle. Marilyn Olmstead and x-ray crystallography. Nuclear magnetic resonance(NMR) and nighttime experiments. Good ear on FID; sound of Chinese funeralgong. Linda Benner. Lab had more women than men; close group. Campingtogether.
Benner went to Rohm and Haas. Importance of doing postdoc somewhere otherthan one's graduate school. Joined Ian Armitage's small lab; Stephen Fesik and David Dalgarno. Time of explosion in equipment development, money for biochemical work. Felt too isolated. No casual sports. Had to build network. Italian landlords. Wanted to return to Davis, but Balch persuaded her topersevere. "You don't ask, you don't get. " Joined bike club. Met husband inclub. More about Balch and Mrs. Balch, her "life mentor. " Writing papers, thengrants.
Interviewed at University of Wisconsin; Procter and Gamble; Rohm and Haas. Benner, Simon Yeh, and others from University of California, Davis, already at Rohm and Haas. Friendly, collaborative place. Job offer included building lab; buying instruments; and having a technician and time for her own research. Ed Greer. Rebecca Smith also hired for NMR lab. Gradually increased size of lab, mostlywith women. Had supportive structure; liked being in charge. Never leftindustry. Problem with polymers at Houston, Texas, plant. Went to processchemistry group with NMR. Fred Hirsekorn. Learned process from technician,to whom she taught NMR. Importance of safety. David Chalfant. Videocamerato watch reaction. Remained in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, area. Son born whileshe was working in Bridesburg plant. At first she was the only woman PhD and thelab boss there. Shared culture shock. Downsizing Rohm and Haas; sympathy for those losing jobs. Competing with new graduates for jobs inside Rohm. Vacation in Hawaii. Four-year-old son already recognizing gendered work roles. After six months hadjob in analytical research division; continuing to move up. Now writes grants forwork with collaborators; spreading the risk.
Prank call from Valerie Kuck not a prank at all; asked her to run for president of ACS. Balch told her to come up with platform. Advice from Elsa Reichmanis, Mary Good. Still responsible for running technology group. Raj Gupta, CEO of Rohm and Haas, supportive. Provided for her group of four to continue work. Platform focused on science education, beginning with legislators, the public, the media, and the next generation. Twice testified before US Congress House Science Committee. ACS developing new strategic plan at same time: more outreach; emphasis on education in and promotion of chemistry. Getting involved with Geoff Hurwitz and government relations. Council for Chemical Research. Impossible Video. ACS leadership course: Passion, Competence, and Alignment. Found presidency caused "brain expansion. " Excitement of many creative ideas and communicating to different audiences.
Balancing work with family. Maureen Caulfield's experience at Wyeth, mergingwith Pfizer, similar to Hunt's at Rohm and Haas, merging with Dow Chemical Company. Son off to college. Bicycle trips with husband. Son in day care whenyoung. Husband ill, started working at home. Husband traveled United Stateswith son for a year; Hunt occasionally met them. Became network parents forson's junior high and high schools. Health issues when downsizing; took up yoga. Son hopes to study chemistry, at Franklin and Marshall College. Eliminatingdistractions when with family.
Learning to lead, not manage. Helping others realize their skills. "Dipping. "Importance of trust in relations; trust built on consistent behavior. VISTA program for leadership development. Mentoring, reaching out. "Walk-around"managers. Raj Gupta, Robert Naylor. Likes change and new things if they areself-initiated. Director of Technical Collaboration, tasked with building bridgesbetween "heritage Rohm" and "legacy Dow. " New mentors from Dow and newmeans of communicating needed. Regards transition as time to reevaluate goals,strengths, possibilities. Importance of new ideas, new perspectives, adaptations.
Feels honored by Smith Medal; connected to other winners. Anne Brower and Irene Baird from her year. Still feels connected with professors. First ACS president from Davis. Still has collaborations there. Niece in vet school. Sondid science project with someone at Rohm and Haas; sparked his interest in chemistry. Importance of loving one's work.
About the Interviewer
Hilary Domush was a Program Associate in the Center for Oral History at CHF from 2007–2015. Previously, she earned a BS in chemistry from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 2003. She then completed an MS in chemistry and an MA in history of science both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her graduate work in the history of science focused on early nineteenth-century chemistry in the city of Edinburgh, while her work in the chemistry was in a total synthesis laboratory. At CHF, she worked on projects such as the Pew Biomedical Scholars, Women in Chemistry, Atmospheric Science, and Catalysis.