For my January 2020 “Five Questions” interview, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to interview Brooke A. Divan who is a Physical Scientist with the USACE ERDC-CERL Paint Technology Center AND IMPORTANTLY, she’s the Coatings+ 2020 recipient of the “Women in Coatings Impact” Award. Brooke in her position at the ERDC-CERL Paint Technology Center, Brooke handles all technical questions from around the USA as the lead for the “Center of Expertise for Paints and Coatings for USACE”. In addition, Brooke also assists with research and development of new technologies, conducting training, provides updates to guidance criteria and manages a quality assurance paint testing program. So now here’s my interview with Brooke.
Jim: Brooke, Congratulations on becoming the 2020 recipient of the "SSPC Women in Coatings Impact Award", which you will receive during the Coatings+ conference annual awards luncheon on Monday, February 3, 2020 in Long Beach, California. I would imagine that there are some aspects of your work as a Physical Scientist for the Army Corps of Engineers (ERDC-CERL) at the Center of Expertise for Paints and Coatings, that you can't directly speak on. So instead, could you please cover your professional background, and how you got involved in working with paints and coatings?
Brooke: “I started my undergrad as a business major at Indiana State University and quickly decided business was not for me. I enrolled in a Geology general education course and found that it sparked my interests. Eventually I ended up as a Geology major, after all, geologists take the best field trips! I loved the idea of working in the field to collect data and then being able to use laboratory instruments and microscopes to draw conclusions about what had happened. During the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, I was hired to work as a student at the Army Corps of Engineers, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) in Champaign, IL. I found I truly enjoyed research. I worked on many different projects ranging from pipe biofilms to wastewater treatment. I went away one summer to do a hydrogeology mapping course at Southern Oregon University and found that combining field work with lab science was my passion. I accepted a teaching assistantship at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign where I worked on projects like travertine deposits in Yellowstone National Park Hot Springs and microscopy of dolomites for possible hydraulic fracking in Illinois. I continued my work at CERL at every opportunity. In May of 2013, I graduated with my masters in Geology and realized it was time to get a job. I was offered employment in Houston, TX where I would be technical support for geologic mapping software in the oil and gas industry. I was less than excited to be stuck in an office not doing field work or solving real-world problems. About two weeks before I was set to move to Texas, my branch chief at CERL approached me with another idea. A position was opening in the Paint Technology Center. This position was to take on a quality assurance paint testing program and assist with ongoing coatings research projects. I remember thinking, “Paint? How hard can that be?” I loved working in the lab and there was the possibility of field work, so I jumped at the opportunity. I have now worked in the Paint Technology Center going on six years and it is one of the best decisions I ever made! It is an exciting field and I learn something new nearly every day! I have been promoted to the Director of Field Relations and alongside my colleague, run the Paint Technology Center. I found that the chemistry, microscopy, and field work techniques I learned while training to be a geologist were actually extremely useful and fit well within the coatings industry. I now laugh when someone asks me, “You spend all your time on paint? How is that possible?” This industry has taken me all over the world and it continues to grow in exciting new directions. Today, the Paint Technology Center has five major duties that are research and development of new technologies, technical support to Army Corps districts around the country and world, run a quality assurance paint testing program, conduct training courses, and serve as subject matter experts maintaining guidance criteria.”
Jim: As the recipient of the "SSPC Women in Coatings Impact Award", what professional advice do you have for women working in the protective coatings industry?
Brooke: “My advice would be to ignore the fact that you are female, know your stuff and do a good job! Every year I teach two classes for government employees from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Federal Aviation Agency. My students are usually well-established in their careers just hoping to acquire some continuing education credits or learn something about paint. It is difficult to tell someone who has been doing their job for twenty-plus years their way, that there is a better way. Additionally, showing up as a young female, it always takes a while to earn their trust and respect. I strive to be knowledgeable and well prepared to handle all questions that come my way. I also try to be honest if I do not know the answer, but come back the next day with an answer and some background on how/where I found it. I find that by the middle of the week, the questions are pouring in and I get to enjoy the discussions while I continue to learn as I look up solutions. I have never taught a class where I didn’t learn something new. As a female, I feel it takes a little more effort to establish myself as a subject matter expert, but in the end, it is always worth it. My other piece of advice is to not be afraid to get in there and get your hands dirty! I spend a lot of time in the field crawling around locks and dams. When arriving to new sites, I often get asked, do you really want to climb up there or inside this tight space? Of course I do! That is where the paint defects will be if there are some! There are times that I get looks while on inspections that make me feel that they are questioning my abilities, but in the end, I put my high-vis vest, steel-toed boots and hard hat on just like everyone else!”
Jim: In addition to being a Physical Scientist, you also conduct research and development at the Army Corps of Engineers, on new technologies that improve the effectiveness of protective coatings. In your experience as a researcher, what future advancements do you see coming to the protective coatings industry?
Brooke: “I believe that the coatings industry will continue to advance using new technologies for many decades to come! We are currently interested in coatings that provide longer-lifespans, have environmental advantages, or have specialty characteristics that help infrastructure perform better. Much like the Trix spoon that changed color in my cereal milk as a kid, we have coatings to apply to barrack huts to be darker when cold and lighter when warm to assist in managing internal temperatures. We are looking at coatings that can disguise or conceal building or structures perhaps by deafening their heat or electronic signal, making them undetectable by lasers, or providing camouflage that changes color to match surroundings. Corrosion is and always will be a huge issue and it costs the Department of Defense over 21 billion dollars annually. Since coatings are the first line of defense against corrosion, we are always looking to find new innovative coatings to prevent or severely slow corrosion. We even have a team in the lab that are hoping to replace steel with composites (like plastic!). They built a bridge on an Army Installation out of recycled milk jugs that a tank drove over! Additionally, I believe we will see more surface preparation and application being done by robotics or drones in the future, especially in unsafe or hard to reach areas. We have another team that is working on structure health monitoring and by being able to better understand when a structure or coating system will fail, we will be better equipped on what to fix first.”
Jim: Your work for the Army Corps of Engineers (ERDC-CERL) which provides solutions to the nation to deal with the challenging effects associated with corrosion. You also conduct trainings and educational courses to your fellow engineers. In your opinion, which trainings and professional certifications are important in the protective coatings industry?
Brooke: “Truthfully, all of them! I have never taken or taught a course that I didn’t come away learning something new. I have taken numerous SSPC Courses (C1, C2, Writing an Effective Coatings Specification, Applicator Basics, Quality Control Supervisor, Marine Coatings, etc.) and always end with a better understanding than before. I strongly believe that field experience is critical in truly understanding and advancing in the coatings industry. Since 2015, I have not missed an SSPC Conference and I think being around like-minded individuals has taught me the most. I also think getting involved and diving in really helps. My first couple years, I sat in a lot of committee meetings and continued to get more involved. Being in those meetings and hearing applicators, general contractors, facility end users all work together to develop specifications and standards, you get to hear different perspectives and ideas. I am now a subject matter expert that has a hand in editing many of the government guide specifications that call out these industry standards and fully understand the importance of how things are worded/interpreted.”
Jim: In closing this interview, we covered Brooke Divan the Physical Scientist, so let me ask you, outside of work, what activities do you like to do?
Brooke: “I’m the proud mama of a blue eyed, little boy named Grayson and his rotten antics take up most of my time. My husband and I are avid Chicago Bears and Illini fans, even if they aren’t the best most years we love to go to games. My passion is traveling and experiencing the world. I love trying new restaurants or breweries. My family enjoys getting outside to parks or even just grilling in the back yard. I also really enjoy board games or playing cards.”
Thank You to Brooke A. Divan from US Army Corps of Engineers (ERDC-CERL) Opinions and position statements mentioned in this interview DO NOT reflect the opinions and positions of my employer SSPC: The Society for Protective Coatings. Publish Date: January 20, 2020 Interview Conducted by: Jim Kunkle, PCS Please visit www.jimkunkle.com to see my interview series and other content.