At 5’ 9", 35-year-old Vicki Finkenstadt talks about the fact that she went to college on a basketball scholarship. "But chemistry has always been my true passion!" she says.
Vicki realizes that passion as a research chemist for the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, IL, one of six regional U.S. Department of Agriculture labs. "Basically, we make plastics from a renewable resource—starch—and we make them so that they have the same or better properties than standard plastics like polyethylene.
She says her work focuses on a sustained agriculture and a sustained energy system. "Eventually, it’s to replace petroleum-based products like polyethylene." One of her favorite stories is how basketball kept fouling her in college. "My declared major was chemistry," she recalls, "but every year, the administration would say, ‘There must be a mistake here,’ and change my major to Phys. Ed. They couldn’t believe that a basketball girl would want to do something as hard as chemistry."
Today, Vicki continues to score points—in chemistry—by mentoring women and minorities. "More and more women are studying chemistry and science. I help them find jobs in the field." She limits her basketball playing to a recreational league. "My teammates can’t believe I’m a Ph.D. chemist."