Q&A with Dr. Sevim Erhan, winner of the A.R. Baldwin Distinguished Service Award
A brief bio: Dr. Sevim Z. Erhan has a B.S. and an M.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Istanbul, Turkey, 1980 and a Ph.D. in Organic-Polymer Chemistry from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1987. She has been with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (ARS), since 1988. She was a Postdoctoral Associate, Research Scientist and Research Leader at the ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Illinois, from 1988-2008, and then became Center Director of the ARS Eastern Regional Research Center in Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, 2008-present. Her research subjects are Vegetable Oil Based Industrial Products, including printing inks, paints, coatings, lubricants, biodiesel, hydraulic oils and composites. She has authored or coauthored over 250 scientific articles, including nine U.S. Patents, two books and 29 book chapters.
1) How did it feel to win the A.R. Baldwin Distinguished Service Award?
I feel honored to be recognized with this award!
2) How did you get started in the field that you are working in?
I completed a BA and a MS degree in Chemical Engineering, and a PhD in Organic-Polymer Chemistry. My master's thesis focused on the area of Physical and Surface Chemistry. When I joined the USDA, Agricultural Research Service, Northern Regional Research Center (later renamed as the National Center of Agricultural Utilization Research) in Peoria, IL, I was assigned to work on a Congress Mandated project to increase the use of soybean oil in printing inks. My background was a perfect fit for the work and resulted in several patents and licensing. After that, I worked on the non-food uses of soybean oil and other vegetable oils in many different areas including paint and coatings, lubricants, hydraulic oils, engine oils, energy absorbing materials, hydro-gels and many more.
3) Can you tell us more about your work and the research you oversee?
For 20 years [1988-2008], I conducted research on non-food uses of vegetable oils as a Lead Scientist/Research Leader. In my current position, as the Center Director of the Eastern Regional Research Center, I oversee 20-24 large projects focused on: Food Safety, Sustainable Bioenergy Production, Dairy and Food Processing Innovations, Health Promoting - Functional Foods, Food Ingredients and Consumer Products and Biobased Products.
4) What challenges have you overcome during your course of study or your career?
When I came to the United States with the intention to pursue a PhD, I did not yet know any English. As a student in Turkey I had studied German as a second language. Once I overcame this initial hurdle, everything moved along much more smoothly with the help of great mentors and colleagues.
5) What advice can you share on how you have achieved success thus far in your career, whether that be entering a graduate program or a lengthy career in a prestigious position?
I am known to advise all young people to help them pursue a career path they genuinely enjoy and the highest-level degree in their field. Your work plays a large role in your life, and for better or worse it quickly becomes one of your hobbies. It is worthwhile to invest that time early on!
6) Why did you decide to volunteer with AOCS?
I attended my first AOCS meeting in 1989. As I became more familiar with the functions and opportunities AOCS offers to its members, I decided to become more actively involved and help others appreciate the role AOCS could play in their own careers. I am constantly encouraging young scientists to engage in as many ways as they can with AOCS or any other scientific society in their field.
7) How has AOCS helped you in your career?
AOCS has helped me tremendously in connecting with scientists from all over the world. I consider myself very lucky to have collaborated, and become great friends, with experts in my field and related areas.
8) What are some fond memories or experiences you’ve had from AOCS service?
I greatly value the relationships that I have formed with my fellow AOCS Team Members. Over decades of conferences, we have watched each other’s children grow and shared wonderful memories dining, shopping and sightseeing all over the world. In particular, it was a great pleasure to help organize the conference in my home country, Turkey.
Check out the AOCS Awards video featuring her: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFwmjkoeqR8