Penchant for Protocols

When she joined the crew of the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) Jacqueline McGrew became the first woman to operate the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

McGrew (’11 biology) landed the gig as a nuclear electronics technician in the US Navy after failing out of the University of South Florida. A military brat herself, she’d traveled the world as her father served in the US Air Force. She says her assignment was the result of aptitude and coincidence.

“The recruiter got a bonus for placing a female and minority in the nuclear program. I went to the Air Force recruiter first, but he was out to lunch and the navy recruiter was there. After I completed my first test his eyes lit up, and he asked if I had ever thought of the nuclear program,” she says. “He drove me to another recruiter so I could take another math test. From that moment, we never talked about any other job.”

She gained incredible experience in reporting, metrics, quality control and systems management in the Navy. Through her service she also met her husband Joshua, an Iowa native, and they made plans to attend Iowa State University together.

Her interest in science led her to major in biology at Iowa State. An internship with Charles Block, a USDA-ARS collaborator in plant pathology and microbiology inspired her interest in plants. She helped Block study corn diseases by setting up experiments, collecting samples and tracking data. Combined with her skills earned in the Navy, McGrew uncovered her penchant for scientific protocols.

As a quality systems specialist at Catalent Pharma Solutions, in Kansas City, Missouri, she is responsible for the management and quality assurance of systems used to develop and manufacture pharmaceuticals.

“Jacqueline’s position was created to allow us to stay on the forefront of FDA’s regulatory agenda. She’s the first in Catalent to fill this role, and one of the few in the company involved with metric reporting. She does a lot of data mining,” says Joel Scheiferstein, quality systems manager. “She’s built upon her natural ability through proactive training and continuing education.”

One of their drugs was recently fast-tracked by the FDA to fight leukemia without the adverse side-effects of other chemotherapy drugs.

McGrew shared her experiences with the college’s George Washington Carver interns this summer after answering a call for volunteers in the alumni e-newsletter STORIES Online.

“The students really like to hear that if you fail it’s not the end of the world. You have to move on. At Iowa State I took on too much – a huge course load and worked two jobs. I went in for academic assistance and student services helped me cut back on my course load and finish,” McGrew says. “The support I received at Iowa State gives me reason to come back and hopefully inspire others.”