Alum LaShaunda King-McNeil, PhD, leads R&D team at Procter & Gamble

Date

02/22/22

As senior director of research and development at Procter & Gamble, alum LaShaunda T. King-McNeil, Ph.D., (BS, ’95) leads a team of more than 30 scientists and engineers and has been part of developing new products across several brands, including Secret, Head & Shoulders, Pantene, SKII, and Olay.

“I have worked with life scientists, engineers, chemists, and toxicologists in a multidisciplinary environment that is both stimulating and fun,” she said, adding that she also works with marketing, finance, and sales.

The entire process, she explained, begins with an idea from market insights or novel technologies and continues to proof of principle, safety and regulatory clearance, clinical and consumer testing, customer delivery, and finally, to the retail shelf.

“The science, safety, value and selling that goes into any given jar, bottle or technology that we offer is nothing short of a multi-faceted, multi-functional marvel when you pull the curtains back,” said King-McNeil, who said the best part of her job is that it never gets boring.

With 16 years of experience at Procter & Gamble, King-McNeil said her passion for technical problem solving and delivering solutions that consumers love are the keys to her success.

“This has worked well for me at P&G understanding that all technical solutions have a human engagement aspect to them from toys to medicine to consumer products,” she explained. “P&G is unique in the way that they pursue understanding of consumers to deliver the best (technical) solutions with the right balance of superiority and value, which is very important when you sell in food, drug, mass vs luxury outlets.”

It was in elementary school that King-McNeil first discovered her interest in science.

“I was naturally interested and loved watching the Living Planet on PBS when it was assigned by my science teacher, I think in sixth grade. I didn't like when it conflicted with the ‘Cosby Show,’ but such is life,” she said.

Offered a President’s Award Scholarship, King-McNeil chose to attend UIUC as an undergraduate as a biology major. But after her second semester, she decided chemistry was a better fit.

“Rebecca (Becky) Simon, in the undergrad chemistry office, greeted me with such warmth that I felt like I was in a small school within a school,” King-McNeil remembered. “With Becky's help, I also received the Monsanto Scholarship, which was a great benefit financially, and was offered an internship which was pivotal in my decision not to pursue organic chemistry. Knowing what is not a passion area, is as important as knowing your passion areas, in my opinion.” 

King-McNeil continued to narrow her “passion areas” when she took the Special Topics Chemistry course, CHEM 492, introduced her to a whole new world of career opportunities, particularly if she went on to get her PhD.

“From the start of my studies, it helped me to think beyond a professorship as my only career outlet, which is what I thought [was the only option] before I took the Special Topics class,” she said.

After a summer internship at Monsanto in St. Louis and a lot of time researching graduate programs in chemistry, she was convinced to pursue a PhD, and after graduating from UIUC, went on to complete her doctorate in medicinal chemistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Before joining Procter & Gamble, she conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Chicago as a National Institutes of Health Fellow and finished her postdoc work at UIC, transferring part of the fellowship work and funding.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was a “special place overall,” King-McNeil said, recalling certain places on campus during her four years: from the Illini Student Union, to the Main Quad, to riding the bus to campus from FAR (Florida Avenue residence hall), to living in Busey-Evans her final year, to the Alma Mater.

“It was all very special. Throughout it all, I was very focused on finishing my studies in four years to avoid student loans, which I achieved, but I developed lots of great friendships, participated in lots of great activities,” she said.

Some of her most fond memories were working as a chemistry tutor her sophomore, junior, and senior years in the Office of Minority Student Affairs.

“We had assigned people to tutor throughout the year, but I somehow always ended up with a whole crowd of people around me. There were several years after undergrad where I would meet people who would say, ‘Hey, you tutored me in Chemistry! You were great!’" King-McNeil recalled. “My college roommate said one day, ‘Who didn't you tutor?’ It was very gratifying to know that I was able to help others in their college careers and pursuit of higher education.”

Now, as a professional chemist with more than a decade of experience in private industry, King-McNeil has advice for current students at UIUC.

“Don't ever let the pursuit of perfection or the idea of being "smart" stop you. To some, the idea of being a Chemistry or other science major, or pursuing graduate studies is reserved for the few, the "smart" ones out there,” she said. “Truly being smart is having a growth mindset and knowing that how or where you start does not predict your path or your fate, and that others’ experience can, and will, be different from yours. The choice is growth and grit, learning your strengths and continuously building upon them, versus focusing on weaknesses.”

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