Over the past school year, the College welcomed five new members to the College of Sciences Advisory Board (CoSAB). Board members serve a three-year term and provide advice, feedback, and support to the Dean and School Chairs in advancing the education, research, and service missions of the College.
We recently heard from three appointees — Karla Haack, Kelly Sepcic Pfeil, Christa Sobon — on wisdom for current students, their own educational and career paths, their plans as new board members, and about the legacy and impact of giving back at Georgia Tech.
Karla Haack, Ph.D. BIO 2009
Karla Haack is an associate medical writer at Merck with more than 10 years of previous experience in research and teaching in academia. Karla utilizes her background in physiology to assist in the composition of regulatory documents. Haack is the current chair of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee for the American Physiological Society.
Kelly Sepcic Pfeil, M.S. CHEM 1992, Ph.D. CHEM 2003
Kelly Sepcic Pfeil is president of ArrowInno, specializing in product design and innovation consulting. She served as vice president for Frito Lay North America and PepsiCo Research and Development from 2007-2015. Prior to joining Frito Lay in 2007, she spent 14 years with The Coca-Cola Company.
Christa Sobon, M.S. PSYCH 1996
A native of Atlanta, Christa also spent part of her childhood in the suburb of Chicago. Christa is a program manager in Manheim Digital for Cox Automotive, where she leads IT and process change implementations. In that role, she delivers large scale change programs that impact operations and drive measurable business results.
Why did you want to attend Georgia Tech?
Haack: I chose to attend Georgia Tech for its reputation as an Institute where curiosity and problem solving go hand in hand. I also knew that at Tech I would be trained in the specifics of my discipline, and I would learn how to be a scientist — how to think in a cross-disciplinary way and how to engage in scientific inquiry.
Sepcic Pfeil: While completing my undergraduate degree in chemistry at the University of South Carolina, I completed summer internships at Milliken Research Center. Milliken had a liaison with a Georgia Tech chemistry professor, Charlie Liotta. He encouraged me to apply for graduate school.
Sobon: Having attended Emory University for my undergraduate degree, I wanted to attend another world-class institution to round out and augment my education.
What was it about your major or discipline that attracted your interest?
Haack: I love the field of physiology because it is the study of the interdependent mechanisms a functioning organism uses to maintain homeostasis. I was able to pursue a cell physiology project within the School of Biological Sciences.
Sepcic Pfeil: Initially I wasn’t sure if I would go to medical school or work in science research. As I furthered my education, I was more attracted to chemistry than biology. I ended up majoring in chemistry and minoring in biology in my undergraduate degree. I was always interested in the ingredients inside of products and what made them work. As a child, I read the back panel of ingredients of shampoo bottles!
Sobon: I loved that the School of Psychology was in the College of Sciences. Additionally, I was drawn by the opportunities for hands-on research and professors who were well known and well regarded in their field.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your time at Georgia Tech?
Haack: To be successful, you have to work smart and hard.
Sepcic Pfeil: The most important lesson I learned while completing M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry at Georgia Tech was a realization that science is ever-changing and you have to continue to learn and grow in your field of science. I realized I needed advanced degrees to continue to understand and grow in the field of chemistry and further my career. My Ph.D. degree certainly helped me to advance throughout the executive roles with both PepsiCo and Frito Lay research and development departments.
Sobon: Georgia Tech pushed me as a student and stretched me well outside of my comfort zone. I really developed a confidence that I could do challenging things and solve hard problems, whatever they may be.
The best advice you can give current students?
Haack: Innovation comes when individuals with diverse perspectives and experiences work as a collective. Bring your authentic self and experiences to your work.
Sobon: There is a lot more you can do outside of research. If research is your passion, then that’s wonderful. However, if you want to contribute in ways outside of that, there are a lot of opportunities!
What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the College’s Advisory Board?
Haack: I hope to continue to make CoS and Tech a place where any student can feel valued and succeed. I look forward to helping create additional professional development opportunities for students.
Sepcic Pfeil: I hope to contribute to the College of Sciences Advisory Board to help shape the future pipeline of students. Recently my husband and I endowed a faculty chair fund to the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The endowment is designed to increase the number of women faculty within the school. So few women obtain chemistry degrees and work in the field of chemistry. I hope to make a difference for our future female scientists.
Sobon: I’m truly honored to serve on the CoSAB. My hope is to stay even more well informed of the many great things happening within the CoS and figure out how I can help the College and the associated professionals achieve goals there. To me, giving back to Georgia Tech is a combination of leveraging my time and talent (and treasure too, of course) to be a visible and engaged ambassador for the CoS.
Karla Haack, Kelly Sepcic Pfeil, Christa Sobon are joined in their CoSAB appointments by fellow new board members Mercedes Dullum and Nsé Ufot — look out for more interviews with CoSAB members over the school year ahead.
Mercedes Dullum, B.S. BIO 1975
Mercedes Dullum is a retired cardiothoracic surgeon with over 30 years of clinical practice in numerous leadership roles in hospital settings, private practice, and integrated medical practices. She served as medical director of clinical outcomes at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C., and surgical director of the Heart Failure Center at Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston.
Nsé Ufot, B.S. PSYCH 2002
Nsé Ufot is the chief executive officer of the New Georgia Project and its affiliate, New Georgia Project Action Fund. Prior to joining the New Georgia Project, Ufot worked as the assistant executive director for the Canadian Association of University Teachers, Canada’s largest faculty union. She also served as senior lobbyist and government relations officer for the American Association of University Professors.