young professionals

A Physics Major Finds Her Niche in Polyurethane

Name: Kaitlyn Tautkus-Berry
Age: 29
Occupation: Technical Service Representative
Company: Covestro

Kaitlyn Tautkus-Berry’s career path leading her to the polyurethane industry is an interesting one. It began with a love of high school physics that she turned into a college degree.

Today, Kaitlyn works as a Technical Services Representative at Covestro, where she serves as the primary tech service expert for rigid, insulating foam used in non-appliance rigid application areas. That means she works with polyurethane that goes into products like entry doors, garage doors, refrigerators and more. In her role, she assists clients with troubleshooting. She also helps them predict any technical difficulties that may arise with their process equipment.

“When I first began working in the polyurethane field,” she says, “I had a general idea that polyurethane involved chemicals. Beyond that, I was very naïve about what polyurethane truly meant. I had no idea how much it touches our daily lives in things like our cars, our mattresses and our furniture.”

An Education in Physics                                                                                    

When Kaitlyn was a student in high school, she discovered a passion for physics. It was a teacher, who spent time as a scientist in the private sector before settling into teaching, that helped build her enthusiasm by demonstrating physics’ practical application. 

“That teacher, she brought something unique to teaching because of her experience. Through her, I learned valuable skills — like problem-solving — that had application not just in math but also in real-world scenarios.”

As Kaitlyn progressed into her undergraduate years, an astrophysics professor introduced her to the application side, or what she calls the “more engineering and less theoretical-minded” side of physics.

Looking back, she sees parallels between what she learned in those undergraduate physics classes and her role now working in the chemical field — noting that she is an enthusiast of the application side of all sciences.

Getting Her Sciences Career Started

Soon after she graduated, Kaitlyn searched for a job in Pittsburgh. Having attended school just north of the city, she had fallen in love with the area.

“It’s just so pretty here,” she says, “and with so many big companies around, there’s no shortage of opportunities for science majors.”

Kaitlyn’s first few roles were contractor positions, working as an R&D laboratory technician. She worked on experiments aimed at furthering knowledge on the topic of film coatings on glass substrates.

In looking for a permanent position, Kaitlyn cast a wide net. “I always tell my friends that you don’t know if you don’t try.”

That enthusiasm led her to apply for a position outside of her comfort zone with Covestro. Despite having little experience in chemistry, she landed the job.

The hiring team liked her experience working in factory settings and organizing large-scale experiments. Plus, her warm personality assured them she was a people person — and that she would be successful working closely with clients on problem-solving issues.

A Passion for Travel and Meeting New People

For Kaitlyn, some of the biggest perks of the job involve traveling and meeting new people. Her role often requires her to be on the ground at a client’s facility, where she can diagnose a situation and work more closely to better understand and assess a client’s needs.

Over the past 18 months, she’s logged thousands of miles, traveling to places like Montreal, San Francisco and Pensacola, FL.

Challenges for the Polyurethane Industry

As Kaitlyn progresses in her career, she believes issues of diversity will become more critical to the polyurethane industry. Hiring people from a wealth of different backgrounds and experiences will only help to push the industry forward, she says.

In her opinion, the lack of diversity is less as an indictment of recruitment practices and is more symptomatic of the need to reach a wider range of students at a younger age.

To alleviate the deficit in the diversity of qualified candidates, she and her coworkers work with middle and high schools in their local Pittsburgh area. Together, they speak to students about the professional opportunities that exist in the fields of math and science.

Solving Problems for the World

In the coming years, Kaitlyn sees the polyurethane industry as being key to helping solve the world’s plastic waste problem.

“Sustainability is a huge goal that we should be pushing towards and working for – especially in the chemical industry,” she says.

As the challenges of sustainability and the creation of a circular economy become even more crucial, she says Covestro, her company, is committed to furthering the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals — focusing on issues like clean water, sanitation and climate change.

By 2025, 80 percent of Covestro’s R&D project spending will be in areas targeted toward achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

A Focus on the Future

Over the next several years, Kaitlyn plans to stay a technical services representative and grow in her role. Her main goal she says is to keep learning and developing professionally in her field of expertise.

“Learning and enriching yourself, these are the things that contribute to long-term happiness,” she says.

Some of the more veteran workers in Katilyn’s department have been there for 20 to 30 years. She hopes to flourish and have the same longevity as those colleagues and to reap the benefit of their knowledge and experience.