At Virginia Tech, Hofmann set her sights on a sustainability related research project. The way the MACRO program is set-up made this possible and Hofmann said she was lucky enough to be co-advised by two highly esteemed professors in their respective communities: Profs. Robert Moore and David Dillard.

Hofmann credits MII’s MACRO Program with nurturing the skills she uses on an everyday basis: communication, collaboration, problem solving and systems thinking. Hofmann also received real world experience as part of an interdisciplinary team that included both engineers and chemists working with General Motors on their proprietary fuel cell membrane.

At Eastman, Hofmann had the opportunity to do exactly what she was working on during her time in the labs at Virginia Tech. The company needed to build a fundamental understanding of creep for multiple materials under different humidity conditions for an extended time and Hofmann knew just what to do. She built the exact same creep fixture, right down to the test tubes, that her group had created in the ICTAS Sustainable Energy lab long ago to test long term creep of fuel cell membranes at different humidity levels to compare with her doubly shifted hygrothermal master curve. This fundamental work laid the foundation for the cellulose based Treva product that Eastman launched about two years later. 

Katherine Hofmann
Katherine Hofmann works in the lab at Eastman Chemical Company.

The collaboration that Hofmann was involved in at Virginia Tech is exactly what carried over to her industrial career. This experience taught her in a very tangible way that multiple viewpoints and backgrounds help us to get to a better solution which, along with critical thinking, is key to effective problem solving.

“I carried this into my career from the beginning and always sought to get input from or create teams of people with a diverse set of backgrounds and skills. This has allowed us to solve problems and create new products that we likely would not have if we were only looking through a single lens. When we only look at the problem through a single lens we can miss a lot of what is really going on and while I don’t need to have expertise in all things, knowing to look at the full picture and include others with expertise has made a significant difference in my success so far.”