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Libby White

The Art of Science

By Barry Engelhardt

“Be open to things that you don’t know. Be open to opportunities.”

Libby (Isbell) White grew up knowing she wanted to pursue a career in science, though she wasn’t always sure of the details. A proud graduate of Vandalia High School’s Class of 1992, Libby is now a Regulatory Affairs Specialist for bioMerieux in St. Louis. She credits her childhood in Vandalia for planting and nurturing the seed that flourished into her successful STEM career.

Libby admits she was a “science geek from day one.” Curious by nature, she recalls, “Much to my dad’s dismay, I would take things apart, whether they were supposed to be taken apart or not.” She laughs a mischievous laugh before adding, “If they didn’t want you to take it apart, they’d have rivets instead of screws. If it has screws, it was meant to be taken apart.”

After graduating from high school, Libby attended Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, where she majored in chemistry and minored in music (percussion). She chose a smaller university to maintain a home-like atmosphere. Although she strongly considered the University of Illinois in Champaign, she was concerned about getting lost in the crowd. She knew little about Millikin but loved its smaller size and proximity to home. “The smallness of it, the familiarity of it, was very appealing to me,” says Libby. “It was nice going from a small town and a small high school to a small college. What a life-changing experience.”

A “Jane of all trades,” Libby describes Millikin as transformative. She attended on academic and musical scholarships, which required her to participate in both marching and concert bands. While she majored in chemistry, music played a significant role in her college life. “I likely would have let my love of music die at a larger university, but playing in the band forced me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to find my people,” she shares.

Libby entered college as a biology major focused on pre-med, anticipating a career as an orthopedic surgeon. However, as she reviewed the class requirements for biology, she realized she wanted to study chemistry. She credits her high school chemistry teacher, Don Snyder, with lighting the spark. “I understood chemistry largely because of him,” says Libby. “His empowering nature made us believe we could do anything.”

After graduating, Libby secured a job at Mallinckrodt Chemicals in Greenville. Eventually, she moved to Columbus, Ohio, partly to spend more time with and marry another Vandalia native, Tom White. In Columbus, Libby took a less-than-ideal position working midnights, but this experience allowed her to gain valuable knowledge and quickly rise through the ranks. Though the hours were challenging, she soon became the senior person on her shift.

Libby acknowledges that while her first job was less than ideal, the experience she gained was invaluable. “At the time, it was hard to connect the dots, but being open to making reasonable concessions was key to my success,” she says. “One of the things I would tell young people is don’t give up just because you’re in the moment and you don’t like what you’re doing.”

Today, Libby and Tom live in St. Louis. Upon moving, she worked at the same manufacturing facility for twenty years, eventually managing a laboratory. Libby has worked hands-on with pharmaceuticals from a chemistry perspective and has managed supply chain, documentation, compliance, and multiple teams. She recently changed companies and is celebrating her third anniversary at bioMerieux, where she works as a Regulatory Affairs Specialist, managing a multi-national team.

A fascinating mix of left and right brain, arts, and sciences, Libby admits that although she pursued a career focused on the scientific method, she has realized the world is often far more grey than black and white. Leaning into her liberal arts education, she sees beauty in our complicated world. She suggests living a life open to exploration.

“Be open to things that you don’t know. Be open to opportunities. You have to take opportunities when they’re given to you. You have to get uncomfortable to grow. I have never looked back and regretted taking an opportunity,” concludes Libby. “You never know what opportunities can turn into and where you find little blessings along the way. When you look back, there’s a Grateful Dead lyric that I have to quote because it’s my favorite: ‘Once in a while, you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.’”

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