Oral history interview with Uma Chowdhry

  • 2011-Aug-24 – 2011-Aug-25

Uma Chowdhry grew up in Bombay (later Mumbai), India, one of three children. She attended British missionary schools, which taught in English, and became interested in science in high school. Having obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics and math from the University of Mumbai, she wanted to continue her studies in the United States and was accepted at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). She married for love, against her father’s wishes. After two years at the University of Michigan Uma and her husband entered the PhD programs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, respectively. At MIT Uma worked on batteries for ceramics professor Robert Coble in the materials science department and thus became more interested in applied science. Chowdhry accepted a job as research scientist at E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company, which she says was a good place for research, with much funding and good equipment. She quickly moved into catalysis, networking with other disciplines, and became group leader, then research supervisor, of a new ceramics group, at which point she gave up lab work. She became a Fellow of the American Ceramics Society. Next she was promoted to leader of DuPont’s superconductor group, which produced twenty patents and twenty to thirty publications. But business experience was deemed necessary, so Chowdhry was appointed Lab Director in the Electronics sector, where she had to learn several businesses. Her sector developed a thick film paste for integrated circuits packaging. As business director of microcircuit materials (MCM) Chowdhry had to learn the manufacturing process, deal with customers, even work on the production line. As business director for Terathane, an intermediate for Lycra, she saw new plants built in Spain and Texas. Next she was made manager of the military market for the Americas, and then she became global manager. From there she became the leader of DuPont Engineering Technologies (DuET). She promoted the DuET brand and engineers to the chairman of DuPont, executives, and department heads, improving morale and garnering much respect for the engineers. Realizing a dream, Chowdhry was selected vice president of Central Research and Development; then Chief Science and Technology Officer (CSTO). She points out that she has delivered a very large amount of revenue to DuPont and developed numerous products to improve and enrich lives. She retired after four years as vice president and four as CSTO. Chowdhry has learned much on every job; she loves to learn. She praises DuPont’s corporate ideology and purpose and its core values, especially safety. She explains that providing food and energy are DuPont’s current focuses. She talks about DuPont’s mandate to reduce environmental impact in all new products; and new labs in other countries. Though retired she serves on the advisory board of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the nominating committee of National Academy of Engineering (NAE). She believes that the United States is still best for innovation, entrepreneurism, research and development funding. Globalism results in more women involved, but America is still the most equitable. Chowdhry emphasizes the importance of communication skills, networking, and mentoring. She concludes with a discussion of her awards, hobbies, travel, and family in India.

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