Alumni Spotlight - Patricia Popescu

May 24, 2022

Why did you choose BBE/SSM while attending the University of Minnesota?

Patricia Popescu is a young white woman with brown hair styled in curls and brown eyes and smiles while wearing a navy blue blouse.


Before transferring to the UMN from MCTC (Minneapolis Community and Technical College), I had initially planned to pursue a degree Chemical Engineering. However, a classmate of mine told me about the BBE program and mentioned that I should look into it instead of ChemE since I was interested in pursuing a career in renewable energy. After looking into the program, I realized BBE (bioproducts track) would be a perfect fit for my career goals since it had the same core classes as ChemE (material energy balance/fluid mechanics/heat and mass transfer), except they had an emphasis biomaterials and renewable resources.

Where do you currently work, and what do you do?

I work at NatureWorks LLC as a Process Engineer II in Plymouth, MN. NatureWorks manufactures Ingeo (PLA), which is a compostable bioplastic made from lactic acid. I did an Co-op at NatureWorks my sophomore year, and after graduation I was hired as a Research Scientist. As a research scientist, I worked on multiple projects in R&D and applications development developing formulations and fine-tuning the material/chemical properties of PLA for various end-use applications. I enjoyed working in R&D, but wanted to explore a career as a process engineer and was able to transfer into manufacturing department. As process engineer I manage and implement capital projects in the plant that help increase capacity and improve maintenance/reliability. I've also had the opportunity to assist with the process design of our new manufacturing facility located in Thailand and will get to help with the plant start-up.

How has your education from BBE/SSM impacted or influenced your life and career?

My education from BBE has influenced my career by equipping me with the necessary skills, knowledge, and research experience to pursue and explore careers in both R&D and manufacturing.

What are one or two of your proudest professional or personal accomplishments that occurred after graduating from BBE/SSM in which your education played a role?

I'm proud to have been a core contributor on two separate IDFs (Invention Disclosure Form) while working as a Research Scientist at NatureWorks. I'm also proud to be part of company that produces sustainable, innovative biomaterials whose values align with my own.

What advice do you have for current or future students interested in pursuing a similar career in your field?

I would encourage students to explore research opportunities at the UMN and do a Co-op or internships to explore different career paths before you graduate. Doing multiple internships gives you the opportunity to figure out what you like and don't like about the field, learn about different companies and how they operate, and can help identify the right career path for you. In addition, getting experience in the industry can broaden the career opportunities available to you after graduation.

Is there anything else you'd like to share with the BBE/SSM community?

Be proactive about career exploration early on in college because it will be easier to figure out what kind of job you want when you graduate. Go to career fairs, do undergraduate research, do as many internships as possible or a Co-op. Get an early start and don't wait until the last year because that can limit the career opportunities available to you. If you do an internship or Co-op, ask if you can do informational interviews with different people in company/department to see what their jobs are like (day to day) like ask about their career path.