Outstanding AlumKnight Has Chemistry with UCF

Jennifer McKinleyJennifer McKinley, ’94, ’96, says the connections she made while in the UCF chemistry program have been vital to her career.

Today, McKinley has an impressive résumé to say the least. Between being CFO of a manufacturing and R&D firm, to co-founder and business owner at NanoSpective Inc., she also manages to find time in her busy schedule to mentor and volunteer in the community.

After graduating from UCF with her chemistry degree in 1994, McKinley went on to earn her master’s degree in materials science and engineering. Following graduation, she immediately began her career specializing in secondary ion mass spectrometry at Lucent Technologies in Orlando. McKinley then went on to co-found NanoSpective Inc., a consulting firm focused on nanoscale materials characterization. The firm offers complete solutions for intellectual property issues, failure analysis, quality control and materials research. She then co-founded and currently is director and chief operating officer at IRradiance Glass, an infrared glass manufacturing and research and development company.

Apart from her successful business ventures, McKinley spends time mentoring and encouraging young women in science and engineering fields through the WISE mentoring program at UCF. She also supports various entrepreneurial micro-loan initiatives and is committed to several non-profit organizations that provide support for women and children, especially in the areas of economic empowerment and education.

McKinley was nominated for the UCF College of Sciences Outstanding AlumKnights award by the UCF Chemistry Department based on her continued support of UCF and her professional accomplishments, service and success. She was honored at the inaugural Outstanding AlumKnight award reception in February 2015 at the Orlando Science Center.

McKinley shared her journey through her education and career, and how UCF has played an invaluable role in her success.

Why did you choose to attend UCF?

I visited the UCF campus with a group of friends while I was still a student at Polk State College. The Chemistry Department’s undergraduate program was well-regarded and I liked the fact that the classes within my major were still small enough to allow for plenty of interaction with the professors.

Another reason I chose to attend UCF was the ability to make connections in the Central Florida region for a future job. I stayed in the area after graduation and these relationships have been more important than I had realized.

How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?

During my chemistry studies I held several research assistant jobs. At UCF with Dr. Brooks Madsen in his Analytical Chemistry Research Lab, with Dr. Lawrence Bottomley at Georgia Tech in a Research Experience for Undergraduates, and with Dr. Kathleen Richardson at CREOL, UCF College of Optics and Photonics. These encouraging mentors were vital in helping me choose which area of study to pursue during graduate school, and the introductions they made for me directly influenced my interview opportunities and led to my first job offer.

What is your best UCF memory?

The day that I was moving into my dorm and my future husband, Jeff, bachelor’s in economics ’93, walked through the door. He and his twin brother, who was dating my new roommate, stopped by to meet me. We married in 1994 and my roommate, who is now married to Jeff’s brother, is my sister-in-law. We have a middle school-aged son named after my former professor, Dr. Brooks Madsen, UCF Professor Emeritus.

Were you involved in any extracurricular activities at UCF?

I spent a lot of time in the UCF Library studying! I did volunteer for several programs for middle school girls, encouraging them to pursue STEM careers by engaging them in exciting science experiments. That really began my love of sharing my enthusiasm for my field of study. I’ve continued to be involved in community educational initiatives, most recently in the WISE mentoring program at UCF.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Being an entrepreneur at a start-up requires me to learn all aspects of running a business. Currently, I am never bored. On any given day, I could be discussing a theoretical scientific problem with my colleagues, editing a PR piece for the website, designing marketing materials, budgeting and project planning for a new research proposal, meeting with potential customers in a sales capacity, analyzing financial reports, learning about export regulations, investigating a new vendor for our supply chain, or making product quality recommendations to our team. A decade ago, it was overwhelming to start a business and have to learn all of this at once. Now, when faced with a new area that needs attention in our business, I can confidently say, “I have absolutely no idea how to do that, but I will learn.”

What piece of advice would you give to current students as well as UCF alumni?

Connect with people authentically.

Now for some fun! McKinley answered some fun questions to help us get to know her.

Do you play an instrument?

I love variety and trying new things, so over the years I have picked up piano and keyboards, percussion, tin whistle, Native American flute, and accordion. Playing with a team of people who are great friends is one of my favorite things to do.

What is your favorite holiday and why?

I love the 4th of July because it reminds me of so many happy moments in my life. I spent my elementary school years in the small town of Lititz, Pennsylvania, which boasts the longest, continuously running 4th of July celebration in the United States (now on their 197th year). I loved the small-town parades, festivities, and being able to easily walk back to my Nana and Papa’s house after the last firework exploded. Lititz is home to the Wilbur Chocolate factory and was founded by the Moravian Church in 1756, which even then emphasized simple living, social justice, and equal education and leadership for men and women.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I’ve studied landscape architecture, and I love the small, private gardens of Charleston and Savannah. I’ve had the chance to design several gardens for myself and friends, and it would be fun to do that for more people.

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