Keturah Postell went to North Carolina State University thinking she wanted to pursue a path of study that led to medical school. But after a particularly rough run-in with an organic chemistry class – an experience which I have been assured is not unique – she decided to change course.
She looked for another course of study that would allow her to stay in STEM and do something “different and interesting” that would make her stand out, ideally something that had ties to the medical space and would still enable her to help people. She found polymer and color chemistry, a degree track that offered a concentration in medical sciences, and “immediately fell in love” with the curriculum and the kind of lab work involved.
As an undergraduate, Postell got her first taste of how the things she was learning in school could be applied to real-world needs. She served as an Undergraduate Research Assistant at the Textile Protection and Comfort Center (TPACC), where her work was focused, in part, on developing personal protective equipment for firefighters, such as wristbands that could monitor their exposure to dangerous chemicals.
She gained expertise in the science behind the materials that go into producing high-performance cosmetics and textiles, and developed a passion for putting her skills to work on purpose-driven projects. It’s that passion that led her to seek a job after graduation at Early Charm portfolio company Materic, an advanced materials firm that is developing textiles and cosmetics with specific technical functions. Postell was hired as a polymer and color chemist at Materic in summer 2020.
Among Materic’s many ongoing custom materials research projects, it is currently focused on making textile treatments to ensure military uniforms are heat reflective and self-extinguishing when exposed to flash fires, like from an explosion.
What if the uniforms worn by American soldiers could prevent them from getting badly burned, or from getting bitten by bugs that may carry disease?
That kind of question drives Postell in her work, each day. She runs experiments to ensure the textiles Materic is producing can achieve desired levels of flame retardance, heat reflectance, and bug repellence, while also remaining comfortable, tear resistant, and durable against many washes and wears.
“We are really working to protect the body from different elements,” said Postell. And more importantly, she noted, “to protect the people who are out there protecting us.”
Postell, a Baltimore area native, plans to continue leaning into her passion for making products that help people do their jobs or live their lives better. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in polymer and materials science from Baltimore’s Coppin State University (a degree which Early Charm is happily footing the bill for, by the way).
“I hope to dive more into the cosmetic industry in the future, and do more with hair care and skin care products – specifically for African American women,” she said. “Eventually, I maybe even want to start my own company.”
Postell is acutely aware that she is a member of a still-too-small club as a woman of color in STEM. She said in her own family, there are only a few people who work in science or tech, and she is proud to be growing her career and continuing her education in the field. She ultimately hopes to help create “more space and opportunities” for others like her.
She noted how important it was for her personally to be able to build a connection with her mentor at NC State, Dr. Tova Williams, who was also in polymer science. It allowed her to see someone who looked like her being successful in her chosen field. When she considers her future, Postell said she hopes she can be “a reference point” for other women aspiring to careers in STEM.
Working at Early Charm has been a “great motivator,” Postell said. She has seen firsthand how researchers and entrepreneurs are able to turn their ideas into companies, and how teams of scientists, like herself, can help to grow those companies into something tangible and impactful.
Ken Malone, Early Charm’s CEO, touts that while he would love to keep all the skilled employees who come to work here, he also thinks it’s great that the venture studio can introduce them to the array of possibilities and opportunities that exist in the worlds of science, technology, and entrepreneurship. He hopes that Early Charm can serve as a steppingstone, and is encouraged that employees like Keturah see “bigger and better” opportunities ahead.