Steve Spagnol: A break in tradition


With the majority of his family being University of Pittsburgh alumni, Steve Spagnol (’10 CH E) broke tradition and started a friendly family rivalry when committing to completing his undergraduate degree at Penn State. A Steelers fan at heart, Steve knew that he wanted a school with a solid football program to support. That, combined with Penn State’s strong, well-rounded engineering program is what sold Steve on his alma mater, even though his twin sister, Steph, who also attended and always had her heart set on Penn State, likes to say she was his inspiration.

“It’s not a school where there’s just one great thing about it. Between academics and extracurricular activities, Penn State really is whatever you want it to be, and I was able to be a part of so many different aspects of it,” says Steve.

Steve joined the Delta Chi fraternity, was accepted into the Schreyer Honors College and Omega Chi Epsilon chemical engineering honors society, and conducted ample amounts of undergraduate research.

During his experiences with undergraduate research, Steve noted how impactful the relationships he made with his professors were. One mentor, Professor Costas Maranas, was, “a brilliant guy who was very driven and exciting to work with.” Steve conducted computational-based research on metabolic engineering with Professor Maranas. That research experience, along with insight he gained from strong relationships with other professors including Professor Andrew Zydney, ultimately influenced his decision to enter a doctoral program.

Steve earned his Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University under the advisement of Professor Kris Noel Dahl. There, he completed wet cell work, investigating DNA structural changes and dynamics in live human cell nuclei. Those experiences and Steve’s undergraduate research study of lung and esophageal cancer patients at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, led him into the pharmaceutical and biotech industry.

Currently, Steve is a senior scientist in Sterile Formulation Sciences at Merck, where he develops drug delivery technologies for non-oral products including injectable drugs. He feels that between the company’s heavy emphasis on research and the passionate people that he works with, Merck is a great fit for him. “It’s really exciting and inspiring to work side-by-side with people who are as good as it gets,” says Steve.

When asked what advice he would give to current Penn State students, Steve emphasizes that “… some of the best learning experiences are lessons from failures. It is important to always be challenging both yourself and your understanding. Failure is acceptable, but only if in response to those failures, you learn to adapt and evolve. Don’t be afraid to keep an open mind, be willing to branch out, and seize as many opportunities as possible.”


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Ally Varajo

 "Don’t be afraid to keep an open mind, be willing to branch out, and seize as many opportunities as possible.”



The Penn State Department of Chemical Engineering, established in 1948, is recognized as one of the largest and most influential chemical engineering departments in the nation.

The department is built upon the fundamentals of academic integrity, innovation in research, and commitment to the advancement of industry.

Department of Chemical Engineering

121 Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4400

Phone: 814-865-2574