A strong foundation in science from TCU was a fundamental career catalyst for Kathryn “Kate” Bretscher ’82, a successful, entrepreneurial woman working at 3M in St. Paul, Minnesota. Bretscher built her career in research and development while working for a start-up company in medical diagnostics and two Fortune 500 companies, Bayer and 3M. These settings led Bretscher to lean on previous experiences made possible by her time at TCU, where caring professors and her network of like-minded classmates cultivated her future goals.
A native of Darien, Illinois, Bretscher was initially interested in TCU’s unique liberal arts environment and tight-knit community offering leadership and development opportunities. As the daughter of parents with experience working in academia and a national laboratory, she approached her own academics with valuable insight and ambition to grow skill sets outside of science through a well-rounded education. Bretscher attended TCU on both the Chancellor’s Scholarship and the National Merit Scholarship, and earned departmental honors in biochemistry as well as university honors.
“I chose TCU over similar universities because it offered strong graduate programs in the sciences. I started researching as a high school student in the Argonne National Laboratory Explorer Program, and at TCU I had the opportunity to do undergraduate research,” Bretscher said.
Bretscher worked in the chemistry department in the laboratory of Jim Kelly, former professor of chemistry, which resulted in her first undergraduate publication and a presentation at an American Chemical Society (ACS) meeting. During her junior year, she earned an internship with Argonne National Laboratory, where she worked in radiation biology, looking at the effects of radiation on cells.
As an undergraduate at TCU, Bretscher found the liberal arts curriculum challenging, and perhaps equally as compelling, she thrived in the supportive environment for women in science.
“As an academic all-rounder, I don’t know if I really would have graduated with a science degree and stayed in the sciences had it not been for the proactive and intentional coaching and support that TCU’s chemistry department offered especially as a female in science,” she said. “Dr. Kelly and Dr. Ian Wilson [former post-doctoral student] were terrific mentors. The faculty opened their labs to us, and we graduated with more than just a degree. Our first paid jobs were in the chemistry department.”
“The chemistry department was proactive and intentional in its mentorship of all its students – while maintaining rigor and always challenging and expecting even more of us,” Bretscher said. “Achieving that difficult balance is the essence of superb teaching.”
“I believe I also gained tremendously from TCU by developing interest and skills in areas outside of chemistry and engaging with inspirational leaders,” Bretscher said. “My global experiences have also been very helpful in understanding the unique cultures of global teams, start-up companies and large company, multi-disciplinary innovation teams.”
“The camaraderie of the former ‘Tom Brown/Jarvis Program’ and the Honors program were also key experiences that led to lasting friendships,” she said. The former all-male dormitory, Tom Brown Hall, and the all-female dormitory, Jarvis Hall, were home to students who were primarily involved in either the honors program or held TCU scholarships. The informal setup lead to many lasting relationships between like-minded students.
Bretscher also earned a Marshall Scholarship from the British government, and worked under Peter Jones at the University of Newcastle. There, she earned a doctoral degree in biophysical chemistry. She was one of two students in TCU history to earn the Marshall Scholarship, a prestigious scholarship that provides 31 American scholars per year the opportunity to pursue a graduate degree in the United Kingdom.
After earning a doctorate degree in biophysical chemistry, Bretscher’s career has been focused in research and product development, new business development, start-up ventures, technology transfer, and licensing and open innovation. She manages the global lab operations, R/D strategic planning and new product commercialization for the 3M Electronics Materials Solutions Division.
Bretscher also serves on the Board of Directors for Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights (PACER), focused on educational rights, assistive technology and opportunities for youth with disabilities.