Having been in the pharmaceutical industry for over 30 years, Linda Obenauer-Kutner ’80, ’83 MA, who holds BS and MA degrees in Biology, is a passionate supporter of science advocacy and giving back to the community.
Obenauer-Kutner’s current role as pharmaceutical scientist at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) involves an “enjoyable balance” of lab-facing work and project management.
“The lab work is like being a chef because you never know if your experiment is going to work. You’re mixing different materials, working collaboratively with many people with no guarantee it will make it to the market,” she says. “It is fun for me – like being in the kitchen and making up a new recipe – I just love it.”
Over the years, she has earned several certifications in project management, including one from Villanova University. She took on project management because she believes in the importance of lifelong learning –beyond your formal education. “Businesses are constantly changing and you have to be prepared and able to step up when needed.”
Throughout her career, Obenauer-Kutner has achieved many accomplishments, including numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals. However, her greatest achievement has been contributing to the successful global approval of OPDIVO®, an immune-oncology drug developed to treat several types of cancer. She was the analytical team lead and contributed to the licensure application that went to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
As a cancer survivor, this achievement comes full circle for her. “While I was a first semester graduate student, I had cancer,” she shares. “Many years later I contributed to this cancer drug development, and it felt like giving back in some way.” At BMS, she has had the opportunity to meet patients and hear their stories. For Obenauer-Kutner, it has been a rewarding experience to play a role in the creation of a treatment that has helped many people.
When reflecting back on her time at Montclair State, many professors come to mind. “Dr. Larry Cribben, Dr. Al Stein, Dr. Stephen Koepp and Dr. Judy Shillcock were all amazing, especially when I fell ill, in making sure I understood my situation,” she says. She credits their support and encouragement for being one of the reasons that she was able to complete her MA.
She recalls working as a lab assistant with Dr. Stephen Koepp as one of her favorite memories of her time at the University. As part of his NOAA Sea Grant project, she had her first research experience taking and testing water samples from New Jersey waterways for pollution and heavy metals, as well as analyzing aquatic life.
Years later, she found her way back to her alma mater. No longer as a student, but as a member of the College of Science and Mathematics (CSAM) Advisory Board. While at BMS, she worked with Francis Cuss, a member of the Montclair State Board of Trustees, who introduced her to the CSAM Advisory Board.
“This is an exciting time to be in STEM education and we are so happy to have Linda on our Advisory Board,” says Dr. Lora Billings, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. “She uses her experience and passion for advocacy to pay it forward to our students and community.”
Obenauer-Kutner says that the most satisfying aspect of her participation as a member of the CSAM Advisory Board has been helping build connections. She has been able to do this by introducing internship opportunities at BMS to students and by helping create a sub-chapter of the Association of Women Scientists (AWIS) at Montclair State.
“My education at Montclair State is intertwined with my professional success, and now with my ability to give back, which I love to do,” she says.