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Best of Both Worlds

Lebanon Valley College graduate Heather Tran Smail poses with her husband

Heather Tran Smail ’14 grew up dreaming of a career in the health field, whether it be pharmaceuticals or in research, but struggled to decide on the major that would get her there. She loved the hard and fast set rules of biology, but she also loved the trial and error of chemistry. Not wanting to leave either of her interests behind, Smail discovered LVC’s biochemistry and molecular biology major and knew it was right for her. 

“Majoring in biochemistry allowed me to be exposed to a larger realm of sciences and helped me find my passion more specifically in chemical testing and instrumentation,” said Smail. “I believe if I were to have selected to major in just chemistry or just biology, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to expand my learning and be as successful in my career today.”

While at LVC, Smail was nothing short of an active student and community member. The summer before her freshman year, Smail was accepted to complete research with Dr. Timothy Peelen, associate professor of chemistry, through the College’s Research First Program. Through this experience, Smail gained her first research experience even before she started college while learning about life as a student. 

Outside of the lab, Smail competed on the women’s soccer team and said her team was a main source of academic support and motivation. With several players going through the same classes, exams, and experiences, the group provided Smail with a sense of discipline that allowed for her to thrive academically.

“One thing LVC did for me as a student was to challenge my thinking and push me to think beyond what was the normal thought process. This not only challenged me, but also taught me to challenge my abilities in the real-world to do more, and do better.”

Due to her success in the classroom, Smail completed two internships during her academic career. At Stoner Inc., a car detailing and manufacturing company, Smail spent time with the research and development team, enhancing their current products and developing a new chemical cleaning product.

In her second internship with Hershey Foods’ research and development team, Smail worked alongside chemists and discovered scientific techniques that enhanced her learning as a growing scientist. Smail cited this as a unique opportunity, as she gained more knowledge about food science and used instrumentation not available in her classroom labs.

“The most important lesson I learned after completing my internship experiences was everything is connected, and you will never stop learning how to apply your knowledge,” said Smail. 

Since graduating from LVC, Smail completed her master’s in business administration and is currently a technical group leader at Eurofins Lancaster Laboratories where she now leads and manages technical scientists and aids in customer compliance. The scientists perform testing on pharmaceutical products and Smail helps them troubleshoot instruments, schedule testing, and develop methods. Her other responsibilities include communicating effectively to clients, addressing client concerns, supporting testing and timelines, and internally helping with process improvements. 

“My role is very demanding and high energy, but I strive off of this environment and I really enjoy what I am doing,” said Smail.  “After other jobs early in my career, I have found the one that truly fits me.

“The one thing I enjoy the most is seeing my team be self-sufficient and successful. Every day is difficult and demanding for them, and I don’t always make it easy when I push them to do better. But when I see their hard work paying off in their testing, their performance, and their personal growth, that’s what I enjoy about my job!”

Based on her own journey, Smail is avid about promoting self-exploration and taking the time to learn what career path is right for you. 

“For those going into the biochemistry field, there are so many possibilities,” said Smail. “Don’t settle for your job. You will have ups and down in your career path, but it does not matter how long it takes to find the right path. All that matters is that you find the path that's meant for you and are happy with what you are doing.”

 

-- Parker Gallagher, Marketing & Communications Student Assistant