Turning obstacles into opportunities

Author: Della Pacheco
From a minority position as one of only 10 women in a class of 110 chemical engineering graduates in 1977, Deb Grubbe has gained majority standing in the chemical engineering industry.

Deb Grubbe

Having progressed to corporate director roles in engineering, operations and safety at DuPont and vice president of Group Safety for British Petroleum, Grubbe now is president and owner of Operations & Safety Solutions, LLC, a consultancy that offers competitive strategies and methodologies to solve operational issues in the process industries.

With an aptitude for math and science, Grubbe, a Chicago native, considered being a math teacher, but her high school teacher steered her toward engineering. The road to the future became clear when Grubbe saw a female neighbor experience a sharp drop in income following a divorce. "This made a big impression on me, and I wanted to choose a career where I could support myself," Grubbe says.

Entering Purdue in the fall of 1973, Grubbe spent three semesters studying biomedical engineering. It became apparent to her that to do anything in that field would have required a Ph.D. "I knew I didn't want that so I transferred to chemical engineering with a biomedical option," she says.

"Purdue's engineering program is known as a top-tier school. This gives additional credibility for women who have gone through the program."

Grubbe obtained a certificate in post-graduate studies in chemical engineering as a Winston Churchill Fellow at the University of Cambridge, England. The international experience, she says, taught her much more about life and other cultures. It also proved favorable when she interviewed with BP.

"In BP's eyes, they thought that the fellowship was significant because they saw me as part of their educational system." Grubbe says. She credits Purdue with giving her the key content components to be competitive. "I continue to be delighted by the positive recognition that the university has in the engineering community," Grubbe says. "Purdue's engineering program is known as a top-tier school. This gives additional credibility for women who have gone through the program."

The November-December 1975 issue of Perspective discussed the goal of attracting 1,000 women to engineering by 1978.

As a business owner and consultant, Grubbe works primarily with chemical, oil and gas industries and large consulting firms. She is often called upon to share her expertise in process safety engineering and operations areas.

Grubbe, who lives in Chadds Ford, Pa., spends two to three weeks a month in Alberta, Canada, consulting on oil sand projects. She finds great satisfaction in helping people find solutions to their challenges.

"What I find rewarding is when I can either help someone think differently about a situation they are in or use my experience to make it easier," Grubbe says. "I have always been oriented toward service. One of the reasons I started my business was to give me time and space to enjoy life a little more and to work on projects of significance that I couldn't do working for a corporation."