Leading with Creative Thinking and Adaptability
Eleanor Small, the 2021 recipient of the ISPE Max Seales Yonker Member of the Year award, uses her creativity and adaptability to discover new solutions in her work and to help ISPE succeed. She received the honor at the 2021 ISPE Annual Meeting & Expo in Boston, Massachusetts.
The award was introduced during the Member Breakfast session at the conference by Joanne Barrick, 2020–2021 ISPE International Board Chair. Barrick commended Eleanor’s leadership and outstanding commitment to ISPE, saying it proved vital to the continued success of the ISPE Delaware Valley Chapter (DVC). She noted that during the pandemic, Eleanor capably led transfer of responsibilities of the Chapter’s financial controller to a new two-person model, utilizing the treasurer and director of finance. She instituted improved documenting procedures and committee chair responsibilities leading to better controlling of expenses. This inspired the Chapter with strength, stability, flexibility, and resiliency, Barrick said.
Having already built the virtual infrastructure required for chapter webinars before the pandemic, Eleanor was able to move the Chapter into fully virtual programming quickly and effectively, helping fill the financial void created by cancellation of the Annual Symposium and Exhibition Show. She also started initiatives to support smaller, decentralized Chapters by sharing educational programming and by simulcasting local webinars. Her actions successfully stabilized the Chapter while enabling excellent virtual content for its members. She accepted a nomination for a second consecutive term as Chapter President, providing further stability to the Chapter. Barrick noted that even through the pandemic, the DVC maintained the highest membership retention rate for any US Chapter.
Born into a Health Care Family
With a father who was a doctor and a mother who is a nurse midwife, Eleanor knew she wanted to do something in the health care field, but it took some exploring to determine exactly what. “Health care is in my family. In school, I liked math and physics better than biology, so I was trying to find a place best suited to my strengths in the health care industry. In college, I looked at biophysics and chemical engineering.”
Eleanor earned her PhD in chemical and biochemical engineering from Drexel University and her BSE in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Johns Hopkins University. As a research fellow at Drexel, her research focused on ultrasound-triggered drug release. Her fellowship also allowed her to co-develop hands-on enhanced curricula with the School District of Philadelphia science teachers for high school science and engineering classes.
“I’ve had some amazing teachers in my life who were so supportive when I was in high school; teachers who really encouraged me to continue in science,” Eleanor said. “I also had parents who were very encouraging, and I know not everyone gets that kind of support, so it is vital to me that everyone has at least one person who says, ‘Yes, you can. You can take this further.’ We know junior high and high school are pivotal moments when teens decide if they are going to continue in science.
“Learning science out of a textbook is not the most effective way for me to learn. Science is meant to be hands-on and experimental. As part of my fellowship at Drexel University, I got to go into the classroom with teachers, work side-by-side with them to create stronger hands-on science classes, and bring science to life. It was a great experience.”
The part I love the most is knowing that the science that I work on is serving a purpose. That’s why we are in these roles. I love science, but I have always believed in science that serves.
Stem Industry Career
After graduate school, Eleanor joined Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health, which has given her the opportunity to continue her commitment to helping students stay with STEM. “The company encourages employees to get involved; it is part of our credo. I work with an employee group that focuses on STEM education for underrepresented students, especially girls, in underserved communities. I think we lose some amazing minds every day because they are not encouraged.”
As a Research and Development Manager, Product Development, with Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health Self-Care, Eleanor focuses on meeting consumer needs for over-the-counter pain relief and has extensive experience in consumer insight-driven, end-to-end product and process development meeting cGMP requirements. “The part I love the most is knowing that the science that I work on is serving a purpose. That’s why we are in these roles. I love science, but I have always believed in science that serves.
“For me, having a clear view of the purpose of the science you are working on is important. In consumer health care, we are even closer to our end user than you might be in other areas, because a lot of the research I do is focused on DIY or preventive health care. This kind of innovation demands a fast turnaround, and often poses the challenge of creating a product with a desirable user experience while also ensuring efficacy.”
Eleanor has launched more than 12 new products under Johnson & Johnson Consumer Health’s iconic brands. She leads global cross-functional teams responsible for product design/development, scale-up, launch, and life-cycle management of new and current products, and has experience working with monograph drugs, class I and class II medical devices (engineered and formulated), cosmetics, and combination products. “With new products, it is really fun to try to think creatively—that is part of the art that goes into science. I’m trying to take a known treatment and deliver it in an experience that is better, so I have to think about not just the science but also the consumer’s experience.”
Eleanor has developed new medical device class II wound care products for the Japanese market, and new formulas for monograph drugs, including a milder version of J&J’s leading mouthwash. The base of this formula continues to be used to develop new flavors for the product line, providing a variety of appealing options to help new users build healthy habits. Her most recent accomplishment is the newly launch Digital Ear Scope from J&J’s leading pediatric pain care brand. The digital otoscope works with a smartphone and companion mobile app to help parents and their children manage ear health by connecting them with healthcare professionals. The product is the first medical device plus app for J&J consumers.
“Since I am on the R&D/development side, the aspect of ISPE I enjoy the most is that it connects me with different sides of the business: regulatory, quality, and manufacturing. It has been a huge opportunity to see the world through another perspective, and to learn how quality or validation groups work. It has changed how I work; I ask questions like ‘is this scalable?’ and ‘what do I need to think about and write down now so the next person doesn’t have to guess?’ Creativity is important, but if you don’t have regulatory approval, the product is never going out the door.” Eleanor enjoys learning about what is important to colleagues and feels it is important to do so. “It may not be your immediate responsibility, but you should think about it.”
Thanks to her adaptability and creative thinking, the DVC stayed successful during the pandemic. “We had already been experimenting with digital concepts for educational sessions in the Chapter. It put us in a powerful position when COVID-19 hit because members trusted we knew what we were doing since we had experience.” She noted that digitalization became part of running the business of the Chapter, not just its programs. “We started creating a digital archive and some of that was driven by the overall digital mindset we were trying to get into. We started thinking of ways we could do better. It is very important to always be adaptable and to want to change for the better, not just change because we have to.
“In consumer health, you have to want to change to meet consumers’ needs. At ISPE, we have to want to change to meet members’ needs and think about what they want and what they expect. This has been a really important year, a really important time to be focused on members and changing for the future.”
About the Award
Eleanor exemplifies the spirit of the Max Seales Yonker award, noted Barrick in her remarks at the 2021 ISPE Annual Meeting. The award honors ISPE members who have dedicated themselves to excellence and service to the industry and ISPE. It was named in memory of ISPE member and industry leader Max Seales Yonker, who died in 2005. Barrick said during the award presentation, “The memory of Maxine Yonker reminds us that we are all patients, and it reminds me of the vital work that each one of you do to advance the development, production, and delivery of a safe and reliable drug supply.”