people and community dr. alice gast: from chevron intern to chevron board member
3 min read | november 15, 2023
The blue-and-white nylon scarf draped over Dr. Alice Gast’s blazer is more than an accessory; it’s a cherished memento from her early days at Chevron.
Gast sat down with the Chevron Newsroom—scarf proudly on display—to share her remarkable journey from an inspiring internship to the halls of academia to a seat at one of the energy industry’s most distinguished tables, the company’s board of directors.
When Gast first entered Chevron’s offices in downtown San Francisco, it was 1978, and the company’s internship program was in its infancy. She vividly recalls how open the team was to a curious, 20-year-old, chemical engineering college sophomore.
“Much like Chevron today, the company had a collegial, team-oriented atmosphere with a lot of people eager to take on new challenges, test out new technologies and do new things,” said Gast, who describes the experience as formative.
One of her most memorable projects came along during her second summer internship: developing a material known as Nylon 4. More water-absorptive than regular nylon and more comfortable to wear, the new fiber was poised to become the next big breakthrough in the textile business.
“It was exciting work,” she recalled. “I got to learn from some wonderful scientists, and I really felt like a member of the team. Those experiences stuck with me.”
As she left the internship program to pursue her doctorate, Gast received a special parting gift: a blue-and-white scarf made of Nylon 4, now a staple of her wardrobe.
footsteps of a pioneer
Gast’s insatiable thirst for knowledge propelled her into the halls of academia, where she spent the next three decades earning a doctorate from Princeton University, teaching at Stanford University and taking on top leadership roles at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lehigh University and Imperial College London.
In 2008, Gast was recognized as one of the top 100 “modern era” engineers in the country by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for her work in colloid and surface phenomena.
a global perspective
In 2010, Gast was named to the U.S. Department of State’s science envoy. The position was intended to encourage international engagement in science and technology and led to a flurry of world travel and experiences. She brings that global perspective to Chevron’s board of directors.
In her 45-year career path that has taken her from the halls of academia to a seat on Chevron’s board, Gast has witnessed the importance of technical and cultural diversity in solving geopolitical, social and environmental problems.
“Scientists in France, Germany, Mexico and China approach challenges in different ways,” she said. “When they work together, they bring those different vantage points and get much better outcomes by collaborating across cultural backgrounds.”
Industry-spanning partnerships can be equally valuable to ensure a diversity of viewpoints and backgrounds comes through in our work, notes Gast.
“It’s a really important and exciting opportunity when academics and corporate scientists come together to solve some of the most important problems,” Gast said. “It’s win-win.”
trial and error
One of the lessons Gast credits Chevron for teaching her early on was the importance of setbacks. She offered this interesting footnote toward the end of our interview: the once celebrated Nylon 4 project was ultimately dropped at Chevron for various reasons. However, the pride she feels when she puts on her scarf has endured.
“A passion for bringing innovative solutions and useful products to the world rang true then and really rings true today,” she said.
dr. alice gast
chevron board member
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