With a Full-time Job Offer in Hand, Otero Sees M.S. Textile Chemistry Program as a Catalyst for Opportunity
By Sean Cudahy
Finding more sustainable approaches to cosmetics is at the heart of Kayleena Otero’s current and future work.
A student in the Wilson College of Textiles’ Master of Science in Textile Chemistry program, she’s part of a team of researchers that’s working on solving an all-too-common problem with hair dye products in the marketplace: “It gets washed out into the sink, and ends up in wastewater,” Otero explains.
Introducing those pollutants to wastewater, she said, can have not just environmental impacts, but potentially flare allergies and skin irritation down the line.
Developing more planet and allergy-friendly approaches to those products is a cornerstone of research she’ll conclude in the coming weeks.
It’s work that Otero already knows she’ll continue exploring after she departs the NC State University’s Centennial Campus.
In the coming weeks, she’ll begin a full-time role as a product development chemist at Raleigh-based Greenology Products, LLC, which produces the nation’s first line of USDA-certified household cleaners and detergents, organic products designed to be both effective and environmentally friendly.
“They focus on making cleaner, greener, organic and bio-based products for cleaning and personal care as an alternative to a lot of the more well-known brands,” Otero explains.
Her passion for the work is evident.
After all, it sits, in many ways, at the intersection of interests and skills she’s been developing since she was a child.
A passion for the chemistry side of cosmetics
As a teenager, Otero felt drawn to the makeup and cosmetic industries.
But, she says, “I saw the artistry side of it was a bit saturated,” noting the many social media channels out there dedicated to tips, tricks and advice.
Having attended high school at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, though, Otero saw an opportunity in her own penchant for all things science.
“I thought, ‘Why don’t I take advantage of that interest and focus more on the chemistry side of things,’” she explains.
Following that path, she began her time at NC State in the Wilson College’s polymer and color chemistry program. The program offers undergraduate students a unique version of a traditional chemistry degree, with more specialized focuses in textiles, medicine, pharmacy — and, indeed, cosmetics.
Always one to work ahead, though, Otero began laying the groundwork for an advanced degree before she celebrated her undergraduate commencement.
Through the college’s accelerated bachelor’s/master’s program, she got a head start on her M.S. Textile Chemistry degree — a multi-faceted program that sees alumni go on to work in a range of fields, from chemical, environmental and medical science to the retail, textile and apparel industries.
“I think I have a great foundation to work off of,” Otero says of the experience she’s gained.
A big part of that foundation has come through her work in the college’s Sustainable Dye Chemistry Laboratory. There, faculty and student researchers focus on designing and developing environmentally benign dyes and dyeing processes under the direction of Assistant Research Professor Tova Williams.
During her time as a research assistant for Williams, Otero has honed an expertise in developing more planet friendly products (like hair dye). She’s says she’s also benefited from a close-knit cohort of students and faculty mentors — each of whom is willing to offer feedback and foster connections.
“Even though we’re all working on different projects, we all pitch in and help each other if we need it,” she says.
Otero has found additional opportunities to expand her network on and off campus, from serving as president of the Cosmetic Chemistry Club to networking through the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, a global trade association for professionals in the industry.
But she’s also enjoyed getting to know her classmates and colleagues through social outings designed to foster collaboration and cohesiveness. She’s joined members of the Sustainable Dye Chemistry Lab at yoga classes, at the North Carolina State Fair, game nights, potlucks. Some, she says, even take part in the occasional pickleball lab.
“I would consider all of the members of our lab as friends of mine,” she says.
It’s that combination of coursework, research and community, she feels, that’s set her up success as she embarks on a full-time role in a field she’s long wanted to enter.
“It really does provide a huge range of opportunities,” Otero says, thinking back on her nearly five years at the Wilson College.
“Whether you’re somebody like me, hoping to go into personal care or cosmetics — or somebody hoping to go into tires or plastic or mattresses or pharmaceuticals … there’s really the capacity for anything.”