Roosevelt Review, Fall 2012 [ PDF ]
When Earth Friendly Products CEO E. Van Vlahakis first met Roosevelt University graduate Marie Abandja at the company's Addison, Ill., headquarters last spring, he greeted her warmly with these words: "You're special."
At the time, Abandja had just been hired by Earth Friendly Products as a chemist, having completed a successful internship doing product quality control, testing and research and development at the company's suburban Chicago manufacturing plant.
"I love this company because it is using plants to make its products. It is what we do in my own country," said Abandja, who came to the United States from the West African nation of Gabon six years ago. Abandja is the daughter of a medical doctor and a nurse. Her dream has always been to pursue a career in the sciences.
Enrolling at Roosevelt in 2009, Abandja, whose first language is French, originally considered getting an undergraduate degree in science and going on to pharmacy school. However, her plan changed when she met Roosevelt Associate Professor of Chemistry Kristen Leckrone, who became Abandja's role model and favorite teacher.
"One day she (Abandja) just walked into my office and said 'Do you have a job for me to do?'" recalled Leckrone, who put Abandja to work first as a chemistry lab assistant, then as a chemistry tutor and finally as a research assistant.
The student came to Leckrone's mind one day last year while she and others from Roosevelt University were touring Earth Friendly's Addison plant.
"I needed some help in the lab and we were thinking about getting our first intern," said Bob Wolford, the plant's chemical director. Leckrone passed Abandja's name on, and in January, the recent graduate became Wolford's intern. A little more than four months later, she was hired as a full-time chemist. And as the company continues on a growth trajectory, Wolford predicted more interns with an interest and education in chemistry, including Roosevelt students and graduates, will be needed.
"It is an honor for me to work for a company that was built by a Roosevelt graduate," said Abandja, who is proud of her education at Roosevelt and her kinship with Vlahakis.
"After hearing his story, I realized that I really do relate to him, because he, just like me, came to the United States with a dream and the conviction to fulfill those dreams," she said. "Mr. Vlahakis is an inspiration for me, and working at his company has made me feel very special."
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