Chemical engineering graduate student Jennifer Naglic wears many hats. A dedicated wife, mother of two, and community volunteer, the self-proclaimed “non-traditional” student began her engineering journey when her children were in grade school. Now three years into her doctorate program, she juggles the full-time workload with the responsibilities of her busy family.
“I need about six more hours in every day,” Naglic laughs. “We are running all the time, but we make it a balance.”
Naglic married her husband Paul when she 22 years old, and the two will celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary this year. When their daughter Olivia, now 16, was born, she left her job as a senior office manager to care for her full-time. Their son Sean was welcomed into the family two years later. When her children were in grade school, Naglic was ready for a change. “At that point, I finally decided what I want to be,” she says. “I didn’t want to return to my old job, but I had always loved math and chemistry. So I applied to school.”
Naglic earned her associate degree in applied sciences at Midlands Technical College in Columbia and transferred to the University of South Carolina to complete her bachelor's degree in chemical engineering, tailoring her schedule to attend classes while her children attended school. She then began her Ph.D. program just three days after graduation. “This was not the traditional route for school, but it has given my children a unique perspective on education,” Naglic says. “They have seen first-hand the hard work that goes into this type of program.”
Chemical Engineering Professor Jochen Lauterbach is Naglic’s research advisor. “I think it is very important for us to provide advanced degree opportunities for non-traditional students like Jennifer. They are very responsible and reliable in their work and can contribute to a research group in different ways beyond their scientific work,” Lauterbach says.
In addition to her coursework and family life, Naglic is involved in her community of Chapin, South Carolina, located approximately 30 minutes from campus. She has served as her daughter’s Girl Scout troop leader for five years. Naglic is also the current vice president of Friends of the Chapin Branch Library and an active library volunteer. Although she keeps a very full plate, Naglic’s balancing act works quite well.
“As an undergraduate, the kids and I did homework together after school. Their friends thought that was weird, but we made it normal. Now that I’m in the doctorate program, I leave work at work. I have to separate that and be there for my family,” Naglic says.
While finishing her undergraduate degree, Naglic began conducting research for the SmartState Center for Strategic Approaches to the Generation of Electricity, studying alternative energies and hydrogen production for hydrogen fuel cells. “I loved the work the group was doing, and I decided I wanted to stay in research,” she says. “Chemical engineers do great things, but we can be very harmful to the environment. I want to study how we can turn that around.”
“Jennifer is working on a project that is in collaboration with Savannah River National Lab and focuses on the removal of contaminants from nuclear fusion reactions,” Lauterbach says. “I am very happy and honored that she decided to stay in my SmartState Center after doing undergraduate research with us.”
Naglic will complete her doctorate program in 2023. She plans to go into industry or continue her research path after graduation as a post-doctorate fellow at a national lab or university, studying environmentally-focused issues such as alternate methods of storing hydrogen. But whichever route she chooses, her family will be behind her.
“My husband and my children are my biggest cheerleaders,” she says. “It’s not easy, but they tell me to just keep going.”