Zach Waszczak graduated from Penn State in 2014 with a bachelor of science degree in chemistry. In this alum interview, Waszczak tells us about his time as a chemistry major and how the undergraduate program prepared him for a successful career with the major manufacturing company, CHEMetrics, where he currently serves as the Digital Marketing Manager. CHEMetrics produces water and wastewater testing kits: the self-filling reagent ampoule.
Kathryn: Why did you choose Penn State to pursue your bachelor's degree?
Zach: I decided to attend Penn State for two main reasons. The first was that the Greater Allegheny campus was close enough for me to commute. With the 2 + 2 system I was able to start my education at a nearby campus for two years and then move to main campus! The second reason was that I was awarded a scholarship through one of their programs.
Kathryn: Was chemistry your first choice of major?
Zach: My original plan was to be a chemical engineer. But as I moved through the curriculum, I realized that chemistry would be a better fit for what I wanted to study. Luckily, the transition from chemical engineering to chemistry was a simple one!
Kathryn: What specifically changed your mind from chemical engineering to chemistry?
Zach: Unfortunately, I struggled with the mathematics of calculus and realized the better path forward for me was chemistry and not chemical engineering. I also realized that I was more interested in how reactions occurred rather than how to industrialize them properly.
Kathryn: Was there someone within the chemistry department who had a positive impact on you during your time here?
Zach: Dr. Dykstra was my mentor in college. She not only helped me decide on a challenging but manageable course load, but she pointed out a lot of opportunities that I would have otherwise missed.
Kathryn: Did these opportunities include undergrad research?
Zach: Yes. While I was in school, I worked with a research program led by Dr. Dykstra that focused on taking cutting edge organic chemistry papers and trying to replicate them. Then we tried to make a lesson plan around it for students in the organic chemistry labs. I was able to see a lot of unique chemistry through my research.
Kathryn: How did the research program benefit you as an undergrad student and what did you learn from the experience?
Zach: The research program taught me a lot about working independently. It taught me how to solve problems on my own and how to be accountable for making progress on a project myself. Being able to set up a bench myself was an eye-opening experience that really prepared me for the working world. Before, I did not know it was something I wanted, but I did know that I wanted to do something extracurricular. It ended up being a great fit. Sometimes just asking what opportunities there are is enough to find a perfect fit.
Kathryn: What resources were most helpful for you when searching for and applying for job opportunities after your time at Penn State?
Zach: There are a lot of resources for students graduating and entering the work field, but one that really stands out was being able to attend a resume workshop where someone would sit down and help you craft the best resume you could.
Kathryn: Did you find difficulties in the transition between school and career?
Zach: Honestly, I didn’t have too many difficulties transitioning from school to career. I felt like I knew what I wanted from a career, but I was flexible enough to consider many opportunities.
Kathryn: How did you ultimately decide what path you wanted to pursue post-studies?
Zach: After 4 years of academia and speaking with many graduate students, I realized graduate school was not what I wanted to do. I did want to stay at Penn State while I hunted for my new career, so I took a job working on campus for the Chemistry Department. I was the supervising TA of instrumentation for the organic chemistry lab. I was responsible for operating the analytical instruments for the I graduated and helping them understand their results. It was a great job that helped me put some critical experience on my resume. I was open to industry or government jobs though. I went to job fairs hosted by Penn State, set up a LinkedIn, and uploaded my resume to Indeed.com. Before I knew it I found my first job as a Quality Specialist with Dai Nippon Printing.
Kathryn: How long were you with Dai Nippon Printing and how did that lead you to a job with CHEMetrics?
Zach: I was with DNP for 2 years and 8 months. After moving to Fredericksburg, Virginia, I interviewed with CHEMetrics for a customer service position. However, they encouraged me to apply for a position as an R&D Chemist Assistant instead. I took them up on the offer!
Kathryn: What types of networking opportunities did you find helpful in getting into your current position?
Zach: Since I now work in marketing, I found trade shows and seminars critical for networking and identifying opportunities. I discovered marketing while working as a chemist assistant with CHEMetrics. There was an opening in the marketing department, and they desperately wanted to fill it with someone who had a technical understanding of the product. I made the leap, and it has been great!
Kathryn: Despite your own personal interest in your current career path, why is it important for people to know and understand it?
Zach: Realizing that a degree in chemistry can take you into marketing, helps people realize that chemistry is more than academia or research. Understanding chemistry opens a lot of doors and can be applied to many fields. Because of my degree in organic chemistry, I can work in marketing for a lot of scientific companies as I have a strong knowledge of their products and how they apply.
Kathryn: Can you specify a project or moment in your current job where your knowledge of organic chemistry helped your work in marketing?
Zach: I use organic chemistry daily. I am asked how to manage pH, how oxidizers react, and how to reduce hardness of water DAILY.
Kathryn: Looking back on your undergrad experiences, are there opportunities you wish you had taken advantage of?
Zach: I feel like I did a good job taking advantage of the professional opportunities. I do regret not attending some of the more extracurricular activities. I wish I had gone to the opening game in the Pegula Ice Arena!
Kathryn: How can undergraduate students make the most of their time while in school?
Zach: I encourage undergrads to take on any research opportunities or on campus jobs they can. It really builds your resume and will help you hit the ground running when you enter the workforce.
Kathryn: Lastly, can you recall your favorite memory as a Penn State Chemistry student?
Zach: My partner and I won the ACS undergraduate poster session for our organic chemistry research one year. It was a great feeling to see our hard work pay off!