The Dr. Seuss title “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” comes to mind for alumna Kathy Wolfgram ’76 when she reflects on her time at Carroll and the start of a career in chemistry that she said might have been intimidating if she knew what was to come.
“To anticipate what turned out to be my bio would have possibly been intimidating, exciting, rewarding,” she said. “Let’s go back to intimidating. There are so many points along the career that you just had to say, ‘They see something in me that I’m not aware of. Let’s see if this works out or not’.”
She will share more details of her career journey as keynote speaker of this year’s Alumnae Leadership Luncheon starting at 11 a.m. on August 19. The cost per person is $25 to attend.
During her career, Wolfgram worked at a multinational for-profit company with 50,000 to 60,000 employees — Dow Chemical Company — as well as a not-for-profit global scientific professional society with 1,400 employees — CAS, a division of the American Chemical Society. She said she found she drew on the same skills and training experiences to succeed at both, despite their significant differences.
“Much of my career, I was surrounded with those who had a deeper technical expertise or technical creativity. I tended to offer process optimization skills,” she said. “I’m not capable of everything. I’m very well aware of that and it was always important for me to team up with somebody who had the stronger talent in thinking a certain way or doing a certain type of work.”
Wolfgram said she realized in her career the importance of observation, curiosity, and self-awareness in gaining an appreciation of what type of work she enjoys and what comes naturally.
The youngest of seven children, her eldest sibling was in college by the time Wolfgram turned 1. She learned from them, watched as each went off to college, and became familiar with the Ripon College and Lawrence University campuses, where some attended. She hadn’t considered Carroll, which was near her childhood home in Pewaukee, until an older friend from high school introduced her to the college.
“I was drawn to the atmosphere I felt on campus,” she said. “(Former Admissions Counselor) Shirley Hilger’s recruiting efforts certainly made a difference. The letters I received from faculty in chemistry, math and even music - they took the time to try to connect to me as a potential student, and the financial aid support stood out. So ironically, I ended up at a college seven miles from home but I lived as if I was two hours away. It was important for me to be far enough from home that I devoted my attention to the full college experience.”
While growing up in Pewaukee, she took college prep courses in high school, doing well in math. So, when she went to college at Carroll, she explored numbers as well as science. She majored in chemistry and minored in education. She said teaching was one of the only careers she had witnessed growing up so thought “that’s what I should pursue.”
Math, she said, quickly became too abstract. She didn’t enjoy “all of the memorization” of biology. She became drawn to the logic and analytical aspects of chemistry and “the expectations that it could lead to interesting career options,” she said.
After graduating from Carroll in 1976, she was employed by the Dow Chemical Company in Michigan and Ohio for more than 20 years. That included a variety of process, product and business development management assignments. When Dow relocated the Ohio Research and Development Center and staff to Michigan, Wolfgram chose to stay in the Columbus, Ohio area. She served for the next 17 years with CAS, and was a director from 2006 until her retirement in 2014.
While at Dow, she became familiar with United Way because of Dow's strong support of the agency. She reached out to seek the first of her volunteer opportunities with United Way in the Columbus metro area. Her giving grew as she became involved with other organizations as well to become president of a 1,250-member congregation, president of the Foundation Board for the Columbus Ohio Rotary, and as a member of the Capital University Board of Trustees.
“It was important for me to get to know the community dynamics in Columbus and to see where my skills and experience might be helpful,” she said.
Wolfgram said she built upon her curiosity and developed a strong network through each life and career experience. Looking back on where it all started at her alma mater, she said Carroll “opened the door and qualified me to walk through the door.”