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Cosima N. Boswell-Koller, Ph.D.: An Unexpected Calling

Technical Lead for the Advanced Manufacturing, Materials, and Processes Program, National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

How a series of female mentors guided a scientist to find her place the field of corrosion

Unlike many traditional science success stories, my journey toward becoming an expert in corrosion engineering began with a lack of focus, as I worked my way through traditional schooling systems. Preceded by leaving school early after 11th grade and obtaining a GED, my professional career path started in early childhood education, which led me to enroll in community college to pursue a degree in psychology and music. Begrudgingly, I had to complete core math and science classes as part of the mandatory curriculum, which is where my trajectory was irreversibly altered by a group of female professors I was lucky enough to cross paths with along the way.

Guided by their unwavering belief in my scientific aptitude, they inspired me to give science a try – one class at a time. As I progressed through the respective series – calculus, chemistry, computer science, statistics – it became clear that my true calling was to be found in the sciences. Eventually, my interests converged on the greater subject of engineering.

At that time, another female professor, this time at the University of Florida, helped me refine my career path by offering me an undergraduate research position, eventually exposing me to computational materials science, which in turn led to a successful graduate career at the University of California, Berkeley, where I studied the electronic behavior of semiconductor materials.

At Cal, I was exposed to the great efforts of the Corrosion Lab, which, alongside my educational background, culminated in my being hired by the NAVAIR Corrosion & Wear Branch to perform theoretical and computational calculations with a focus on electrochemical applications. Yet again, I was brought on board by a strong female branch head with 30+ years of experience in corrosion and non-destructive inspections. This position gave me access to NACE, CORROSION journal, and the immense network of researchers, innovators, and strategists in a field that remains highly important to the DoD maintenance and sustainment communities. I have been lucky to publish in the journal, as well as attend and speak at NACE conferences, allowing me a glimpse into some of the high impact research efforts throughout the community.

Most recently, I was hired by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, a non-profit organization boasting six out of seven leadership positions filled by women. At NCMS, I serve as the Technical Lead for the Advanced Manufacturing, Materials, and Processes (AMMP) program – an innovative program in collaboration with CCDEVCOM Army Research Laboratory. The AMMP program is realizing disruptive manufacturing breakthroughs, while supporting our nation’s military and strengthening the U.S. industrial base. In this role, I am fortunate to continue to interface with many individuals and organizations I was introduced to through NACE and CORROSION journal.

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