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La’Techa Johnson Landry

ACS Scholarship helped this driven chemist blaze her own trail

by Bethany Halford
October 25, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 43

Credit: Carolyn Sharp
Credit: Carolyn Sharp

Growing up alongside the Mississippi River in the small Louisiana city of St. Gabriel, La’Techa Johnson Landry spent her childhood in a landscape dominated by the chemical enterprise. “We have tons of chemical plants in the area,” she recalls. “I had to pass them every day.”

Landry couldn’t help but wonder about what went on in those giant smokestacks. Because she had a natural aptitude for math and science, a career in chemistry and chemical engineering seemed to be the obvious choice. “It was always something that I was curious about,” she says. “There was something about chemistry that I felt would challenge me.”

Driven to make her dream of becoming a chemist a reality, Landry sought scholarships for students pursuing science degrees. She found the ACS Scholars Program while paging through a scholarship directory at her local library one day.

Shortly after graduating from East Iberville High School, in St. Gabriel, in the spring of 1997, Landry was surprised and delighted to learn that she’d earned one of the competitive scholarships, which provide up to $5,000 per year to members of underrepresented groups pursuing undergraduate degrees in chemistry or related fields.

The following fall, Landry began her studies in chemistry and chemical engineering at Southern University & A&M College, in Baton Rouge, La. Not only did the scholarship help financially, she says, but the site visits, internships, and mentoring she participated in during her time as an ACS Scholar also gave her the opportunity to learn more about life as a chemist and chemical engineer.

“We got a chance to see not just the research and development laboratories but also various facilities,” such as chemical plants, Landry says. “That was very beneficial for me.” For example, a chemical engineering internship convinced Landry that her main interest was working in a laboratory setting rather than at a manufacturing site, so she decided to focus her degree on chemistry.

Landry is something of a trailblazer. She was in the first class of ACS Scholars to receive sponsorship from PPG Industries. Four years later, she was the first ACS Scholar to be hired by the company, and she still works for PPG today. As a supervisor at the company’s facility in Lake Charles, La., Landry currently manages 11 technicians and two chemists, assigning and scheduling project work. She oversees the chlor-alkali quality-control lab, ensuring that products meet customer specifications.

“La’Techa has the natural tendency to lead and supervise her direct reports. She readily assumes responsibility and is quick to respond and solve analytical problems in the laboratory,” says James Rusnak, Landry’s supervisor at PPG. “It is a pleasure to work with La’Techa; I can always depend on her to consistently exercise proper judgment in the use of resources. She has an excellent positive personality and always has the time in her day to share a smile with you.”

Landry has also garnered accolades from the larger scientific community. In 2004, she was honored with the Modern Day Technology Leader award at the Black Engineer of the Year Awards conference. The prize is given to “men and women of color who demonstrate outstanding performance and will shape the course of engineering, science, and technology in the future.”

When Landry isn’t doing chemistry, she’s a busy wife and mother of two young boys—Matthew, age two, and Jason, eight months—who still manages to find time to volunteer in her community. Among her many outreach activities, Landry is part of the PPG+1 volunteer group, for which she mentors young people, and has been involved with the Big Brothers Big Sisters lunch buddy program, in which she spent midday hours with a girl at a local school, she explains, “to try to motivate her to stay on the right track.” Finding the right track and staying on it is something that Landry has proven to be very adept at.


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