Law practice by way of chemical engineering

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Searching for the right college can be like searching for the right relationship. Ultimately, you hope to find that elusive quality known as chemistry—especially when your plan is to become a chemical engineer.

Nan Joesten (ChemEngr ’82) grew up in a small town in Indiana, the daughter of an engineer who encouraged her to pursue an engineering career. When it came time to pick a college, Joesten wanted a university where she could study chemical engineering, play in the marching band, and perhaps join a sorority, all within a five-hour drive of home. After looking at a friend’s CU-Boulder brochure though, Joesten was first struck by the beauty of the Flatirons and then became interested in what the engineering college had to offer.

Thus began an academic relationship that would lead to an engineering degree from CU, a law degree from the University of California, Berkley in 1997, and a multidisciplinary approach to engineering and law in her practice. Joesten is an attorney and management consultant in San Francisco, and a winner of the 2012 Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award in Private Practice.

The Saturday evening Joesten and her dad were to fly into Denver, her basketball team was playing in a tournament and the championship game went into double overtime. Joesten remembers standing at the free throw line thinking she’d better hurry and win the game so she wouldn’t miss her flight.

They arrived in Colorado late Saturday, skied at Eldora on Sunday, and toured the campus on Monday.

“At the end of the tour and my day on campus, I was sold,” she says. “I thought, ‘This place rocks! It has everything I want.’ My life is better today for having gone to CU and I’m grateful for Lanny (Pinchuk) showing us around and helping me see that I wanted to come here.”

After graduation, Joesten worked as a manufacturing engineer at Procter & Gamble leading a manufacturing team in Kansas City where she oversaw production of dish detergent for the western United States. She learned paper engineering on the fly when she was promoted to managing a department where high-speed paper lines made disposable diapers.

“I worked with guys who were a lot older, hadn’t gone to college, and didn’t have much time for a wet-behind-the-ears 21-year-old,” says Joesten.

After five years Joesten took a break from manufacturing—on what she calls her skiing sabbatical—and worked at Copper Mountain for a season. When the snow melted she returned to Procter & Gamble as an advertising brand manager to conduct brand strategy, market positioning, and product advertising.

“P&G is a fabulous company to work for, and I enjoyed the bigger strategic picture I had in brand management,” says Joesten. “I felt like in manufacturing I was a bit like a cog in a wheel, and I wanted the view from the center of the wheel rather than out at the end of one of the spokes.”

After moving to California, she left Procter & Gamble and became director of sales and marketing for a floral wire service. She then realized that wasn’t quite what she wanted and briefly worked for Habitat for Humanity, setting up the organization’s earthquake recovery program after the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles.

And that led her to law school and to the Farella Braun and Martel law firm where she became a partner.She specialized in intellectual property and business litigation. Her complex litigation practice focused on commercial disputes; including patent and trademark infringement, trade secret misappropriation, and technology- related litigation in the United States and abroad.

“Engineering was excellent preparation for becoming a lawyer,” she said. “People believe in you when you’re an engineer. They believe that you can figure out their problem, that you are someone with discipline and determination. To a client that’s incredibly valuable.”

In January of this year she formally became of counsel to her law firm and launched Rapid Evolution, a San Francisco Bay Area management consulting firm that helps organizations and individuals improve their effectiveness and results. She draws on her extensive knowledge of how organizations operate and what it takes to create systems that help people achieve their goals.

“I can help you evolve and adapt to changes in the marketplace more quickly,” says Joesten. “In the current business climate, you don’t have time to figure things out. You have to be able to solve problems quicker, faster, and better and I bring the tools and skills to help people do a better job at that.”

A long-time member of the dean’s Engineering Advisory Council, she served on the resource development committee to help raise funds for the college. She also chaired a fundraising committee for the chemical and biological engineering department to support its move to the new biotechnology building at CU-Boulder.•

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