Andy Gilreath—who earned her BS in chemistry from Penn State in 2011—became interested in makeup and art as a young child, but she didn’t realize that chemists were behind her favorite beauty products until she started high school. “Like most of us, I had never really thought about how these products get on the shelves or why they felt or smelled a certain way,” she explains, “but once I realized I could actually make a career out of creating makeup and skin care, I didn't want to do anything else.”
As she prepared to apply to college, Gilreath did some research and discovered that most cosmetic chemists had degrees in biology or chemistry, a subject she had enjoyed in high school.
After visiting Penn State, Gilreath knew it was the place to achieve her goals. “I didn’t want to feel like a large fish in a small pond, I wanted an ocean!” Gilreath explains, “when I first visited for a tour, the campus just clicked with me and I could see myself being happy there, so I knew it was the right choice. After learning about the college of science and the type of research being done, I knew it would be a solid foundation for my career goals.”
Gilreath was not disappointed. Within the Department of Chemistry, she found a supportive network of faculty and students who were eager to help her launch her dream career. “I specifically pursued a chemistry degree to support my desire to become a cosmetic chemist,” she adds, “my advisors and research professors were extremely supportive of my career goals and allowed me to really carve out my own space in my four years at Penn State.”
Today, Gilreath is a group leader in the makeup group at L’Oreal, where she leads the team that is responsible for formulating cosmetic products like foundation, primer, and concealer. Gilreath loves her work, noting, “It's such a cool opportunity to be creative and artistic, and I get the added perk of seeing my launches in the store and knowing that I’m helping to give people a sense of confidence and empowerment. It's pretty great.”
She credits her experience at Penn State as an important factor in her professional success. “After being in the industry for a few years and comparing undergrad experiences with my professional peers, I realized just how well the Department of Chemistry prepares its students for a future in science,” Gilreath says, “It’s a very rigorous and demanding program that has many classroom and research opportunities to help push students to learn and grow.”
One such opportunity was participating in research. After her junior year, Gilreath received a fellowship for summer research, allowing her to work independently on cosmetic focused research within an analytical lab. She notes that this experience gave her a professional edge after graduation.
However, Gilreath’s connection to Penn State goes deeper than professional development. “I definitely felt a sense of community and support that I am still so thankful for,” she says of her time as an undergraduate, noting that she made lifelong friends at Penn State. Since graduating, Gilreath has continued to be involved in the Penn State chemistry community, serving as a mentor and resource for other students who are interested in a career in the personal care industry.
She encourages young scientists who are considering chemistry to take a closer look at Penn State. “The programs are top-notch, the campus is beautiful, and downtown is a blast,” she adds, “there are a multitude of opportunities at Penn State, you just have to set a goal, be relentless in your pursuit, and let any failures or missteps that might happen along the way strengthen you.”
In her free time, Gilreath enjoys traveling, visiting friends and family, and spending time outdoors.