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ChE honors 2019 Outstanding Chemical Engineers

Davidson School of Chemical Engineering presented three of its distinguished alumni with the 2019 Outstanding Chemical Engineer Award. Mitchel J. Papanicolas (BSChE '65), Craig A. Smith (BSChE '72), and Kristin L. Thunhorst (BSChE '93) were honored at a banquet on Thursday, September 5. Every year since 1988, the Davidson School of Chemical Engineering has recognized alumni who have achieved distinction as leaders while making significant contributions to their fields, thus reflecting the value of a chemical engineering degree.

Davidson School of Chemical Engineering presented three of its distinguished alumni with the 2019 Outstanding Chemical Engineer Award. Mitchel J. Papanicolas (BSChE ’65), Craig A. Smith (BSChE ’72), and Kristin L. Thunhorst (BSChE ’93) were honored at a banquet on Thursday, September 5.

Mitchel J. Papanicolas (BSChE ’65) is President and Owner of Del Ray Glass, Inc. Since the early 1950s, Del Ray Glass, Inc. has provided glass services for commercial, residential, and governmental projects throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.

Papanicolas earned his BS in Chemical Engineering in 1965, graduating in the top 10% of his class. He earned an MS in Industrial Engineering, with an emphasis on manufacturing management, in 1967. He went on to receive his MBA from George Washington University.

In 1967, Papanicolas was a Development Engineer for Rohm & Haas Chemical Company. As a junior executive at Rohm & Haas, he was responsible for production control of the agricultural chemicals division. In 1970, Papanicolas took over as President and Owner of Del Ray Glass, Inc. from his stepfather, who began the company over 50 years ago. He expanded company sales from $100,000 per year in 1970 to $20 million currently, with a staff of more than 100 people. All members of the Del Ray Glass, Inc. management team hold degrees from Purdue University’s College of Engineering.

Del Ray Glass, Inc.’s business is 80% commercial, with the remainder of their business serving residential clients. The company specializes in custom glass showers, custom mirror work, varied work for all major hotels and commercial properties, storefronts, new low-rise office buildings, and new schools. Del Rey Glass, Inc. has worked with major clients such as Amazon, Volkswagen, and others.

Craig A. Smith (BSChE ’72) earned his BS with honors in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University in 1972. After graduation, he earned his MS in Chemical Engineering from Northwestern University.

In 1975, he accepted a position with Exxon Research and Development Labs (ERDL) in Baton Rouge, where he was responsible for all downstream research. His work there was dedicated to pioneering research in the areas of coal liquefaction and gasification as well as developing new catalysts for conventional downstream processing.

After eight years at ERDL, Smith moved to Exxon’s Research and Engineering (ERE) facility in Florham Park, NJ, providing tech support, trouble shooting, and design/engineering services to their lubricant manufacturing facilities worldwide. His work in new technology development and implementation sought ways to profitably employ promising new technologies in existing lube operations, including development of Exxon’s proprietary new synthetics lubes processing technology first commercialized in Europe. He led planning, feasibility, and logistics studies for this operation.

After 13 years at Exxon, Smith decided it was time for a change. Since college, he had dreamed of starting and running his own business. Career-wise, he had transitioned from the technical side to business and finance, and he had also enjoyed the increased client services responsibilities that had come with it. The financial services industry made a lot of sense to him.

In 1988, Smith accepted a position in the private client group of Shearson Lehman Brothers, which through a series of mergers and acquisitions, later became Morgan Stanley. Over the course of 29 years, he built a practice dedicated to serving the complex financial needs of high net worth clients and their families. For the last 15 years, Smith led a team of investment professionals that managed $600 million in client assets.

Smith and his wife of 31 years, Jacqui, are semi-retired and make their home in New Jersey. They are proud parents of Kristen, who has just been accepted into Rutgers graduate forensics sciences program.

Kristin L. Thunhorst (BSChE ’93) is employed by 3M Company and currently serves as Staff Scientist in the Safety and Industrial Business Research and Development Laboratory.  During her 21 years at 3M, she has worked in the Corporate Research Organization, as well as three Business Groups and five Divisions. Thunhorst’s previous roles have included Process Engineer, Product Development Engineer, Six Sigma Black Belt, Technical Team Leader, and Program Manager.  Her areas of technical focus include photopolymers, nanotechnology, organic resins, composites, ceramics, and optical materials, applied to products ranging from tapes, air filters, decorative products, and composite pressure vessels, to abrasives.

Thunhorst has 22 issued U.S. patents. Her work has been recognized with numerous leadership and technical awards, notably including the 2018 AIChE Industrial Research and Development Award, 2019 University of Colorado Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award, Corporate Circle of Technical Excellence and Innovation Awards, PSI Leadership award, and Best Overall Technical Paper Award at American Composite Manufacturer’s Association Technical Meeting.  Her teams have been responsible for significant financial contributions to 3M.  She supports and develops the next generation of scientists and leaders through extensive mentoring, including serving as a mentor for the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge for many years.

She holds a BS in Chemical Engineering degree from Purdue University, where she served as the President of the Student Chapter of AIChE, participated in the co-operative education program and Mortarboard, was selected as one of 100 Purdue Outstanding Seniors, and received a National Science Foundation Fellowship.  She received her MS and PhD degrees from the University of Colorado Boulder with a focus on Photopolymerization and Membrane Separations.