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Greek CommunityDr. Marianthi Ierapetritou: Pioneering Excellence in Chemical Engineering and STEM Advocacy

Dr. Marianthi Ierapetritou: Pioneering Excellence in Chemical Engineering and STEM Advocacy

Hellenic News
Hellenic News
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By Leslie Krowchenko, Special to the Hellenic News of America

From a young age, Dr. Marianthi Ierapetritou was drawn to math and physical sciences.

She strives to instill that love of all things left-brain in her students.

Ierapetritou is a Distinguished Professor who holds the Gore Centennial Chair in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) at the University of Delaware. Whether in the classroom or with her research group, she seeks to foster an environment that supports and empowers female undergraduate and graduate students.

“Throughout my career, I consistently prioritize inclusivity and advocate for the active participation of women across all levels,” she said. “I firmly believe in equal representation and champion the significance of women as role models in shaping academic life.”

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Born in Greece, Ierapetritou began her studies at Varvakeio School, then earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens in 1991. Four years later, she received her PhD from Imperial College (London) and subsequently completed post-doctoral research at Princeton University.

Prior to joining UD, Ierapetritou was a Distinguished Professor in CBE at Rutgers University. During her last year, she served as Associate Vice President for the Promotion of Women in Science, Engineering, and Mathematics, leading efforts to advance their careers in STEM.

“I was fortunate to grow up in a happy family and although my parents did not have a university education, they had great respect for science,” said Ierapetritou. “They had the foresight to see the need for me to attend one of the top high schools and thanks to our wonderful teachers, my love for the field naturally developed both inside and outside the school.”

Chemical engineering aims not only to create new products such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, fuels, and other materials, but produce them on a large scale for use by a greater number of people. The practical nature of the field’s applied inventions enticed her to a specialty that allows her to contribute to improving quality of life through her work.

Ierapetritou’s research focuses on process systems engineering. For the last 15 years, she has concentrated on enhancing drug manufacturing to promote speed and consistent quality to the market and advancing sustainability in producing fuels and chemicals. The work, supported by several federal and industrial grants, involves reevaluating traditional approaches to the discipline.

“The FDA has been very vocal in favor of modernizing pharmaceutical manufacturing with a number of collaborations with universities,” she said. “We have been fortunate to work on these kinds of initiatives that help move the industry forward.”

Ierapetritou is recognized far beyond the land of the Blue Hens. She has garnered numerous honors, including being the first woman to receive the Computing in Chemical Engineering award, the highest distinction in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers Computing and Systems Technology division (Systems area). She has more than 300 publications and has been an invited speaker to numerous national and international conferences.

Although love of research was her initial passion in her academic journey, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses has gradually become a spotlight of her career. The classroom offers pleasures (connecting with students on a mental level, experiencing the excitement when they grasp a concept, the joy of meeting new individuals each year) and at times frustrations (when you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to click or you leave a lecture feeling drained and uncertain if anyone understood) and provides “an incredibly rewarding experience.”

“Receiving an email or a thank-you note from a former student makes it all worthwhile,” she said. “These moments of appreciation reaffirm the impact of teaching and inspire me to continue fostering learning experiences that positively shape students’ lives.”

Ierapetritou is very proud of those students, particularly the PhD students, and mentoring 31 of them to the advanced degree “has been a privilege.” Process systems engineering, which entails mathematical modeling and optimizing complex systems, lacks adequate numbers of women, despite numerous studies showcasing girls’ outperformance of boys in science and math during high school and college. She feels the underrepresentation hampers progress in the field.

“Significant efforts have been made in the past decade to address this issue, but systemic challenges persist,” she said. “Overcoming this disparity requires sustained efforts and a persistent strategy to yield meaningful results in achieving greater gender diversity and inclusion.”

Away from the classroom and lab, Ierapetritou is devoted to her family – her husband of 26 years, Yannis Androulakis, an academic and chemical engineer, and their 15-year-old daughter, Anna. She has participated in 12 marathons and plans to join in one every year, as running offers the chance to “detox from my daily routine, relax and get physical exercise.”

“Watching Anna blossom into a talented and multifaceted young lady fills me with joy and pride,” she said. “We are also fortunate to have friends who are like a second family to us, especially since our real family is far away in Greece.”

The copyrights for these articles are owned by the Hellenic News of America. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hellenic News of America and its representatives.

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