Merck's Janice Frontera '18 is Blazing Trails in Pharmaceutical Innovation – and Paving the Way for Other Stevens Alumni
Janice Frontera, associate engineering specialist in the Global Engineering Solutions Department at MSD Biotech in Dublin, Ireland has always been inspired to pursue a STEM career.
Long before this Stevens Institute of Technology alumna earned her degrees in Chemical Engineering ('16 B.E.) and Engineering Management ('18 M.E.), she loved talking with her civil engineer grandfather about his projects—and participating in her own.
"In middle school, I had a team project to design a city and thought it was the greatest thing," Frontera recalls. "I attended a Girls in Engineering summer program at Rutgers University where we completed hands-on engineering projects and had talks from guest speakers across a number of engineering disciplines and industries. It was inspiring to learn about women in these fields. When I was 14, I became interested in chemical engineering, so in high school I took all the science and math classes I could, which kept me thinking about engineering opportunities."
When it came time to choose a college, Frontera was immediately and irrevocably drawn to Stevens.
'Stevens is the complete package'
"Stevens is the complete package," Frontera says. "Stevens’ career placement always ranks in the national top ten, and that was important to me because getting a job is the end goal when selecting a college. I knew the academic curriculum at Stevens would be challenging, and I appreciated the opportunity to gain industry experience as a student. Plus, it’s a tight-knit community with terrific extra-curricular activities. Once I visited, I knew Stevens was the only place I wanted to be."
Excited though she was, Frontera still had a lot to learn during her undergraduate and graduate studies at Stevens.
"The number of credits you take every semester in the chemical engineering program is significant, and the courses are substantial, so you have to learn to prioritize," she says. "Faculty members challenge you to think not only outside the box, but also inside the box to apply the right skills. Stevens is also unique because it provides eight semesters of design work where you can operate in a team environment and develop problem-solving and leadership skills while collaborating with people who have different mindsets than your own."
Frontera also appreciated the school's focus, not only on the courses at hand, but also on what happens after graduation.
"My advisor and professor Suphan Kovenklioglu, was so helpful–just a wealth of knowledge. He understood my interests so that he could help me select the right courses. He pointed me to pharmaceutical manufacturing engineering courses and Organic Chemistry II, and the fundamentals I learned in those courses have been helpful in my work every day."
"I also worked closely with the team at the Stevens Career Center. From the first year, they have you prepare your resume and practice for interviews. Friends at other schools were pulling together their resumes senior year, but at Stevens we always had it on hand. We were always ready. Stevens gets you in the mindset to own your own career from day one."
Great opportunities are just a Handshake away
That laser-focused mindset paid off in 2016 when Frontera earned a coveted spot in the highly regarded Merck Manufacturing Leadership Development Program (MMLDP).
"I learned about MMLDP through Handshake, the Stevens job portal," Frontera explains. "I knew that I wanted to dive into pharmaceuticals from having taken classes such as Intro to Pharma Manufacturing, Good Manufacturing Practices in Pharma Facility Design, and Process Safety Management. After I had interviewed, I returned to campus to attend a Stevens Women’s Program event and learned about an alumna's positive experience at Merck, specifically in the MMLDP (formerly MMDP), and that cemented my decision. The timing was pretty funny."
After more than two years with Merck (known as MSD outside the U.S. in Canada), first in Pennsylvania and now in Ireland, Frontera couldn't be happier with her career path.
"My time in the program has flown by," she says. "To me, that’s a sign that it's been exciting. I'm on my third assignment, and I've been challenged to take a core engineering problem-solving approach to pharmaceutical areas that I didn’t get to in class, and to further develop my leadership skills. My studies at Stevens have been 100% applicable – from core classes that prepare you to excel in chemical engineering in any industry, to my electives in pharmaceutical manufacturing engineering, to my graduate courses, to the industry experiences so many of my professors shared which has helped me in my work."
Frontera recently "paid it forward," sharing the news of another MMLDP opening with her contacts at Stevens' pharmaceutical manufacturing engineering and chemical engineering departments, which was the first step leading to Ravi Suba, a pharmaceutical manufacturing engineering graduate student, becoming the program's third Stevens graduate.
"I valued that Stevens prepares you for the end goal from day one, and challenges you every step along the way," she says. "I’m really glad I could give back to that."