OCAST Internship has lasting impact on CSL President Jennifer Ellis
Jennifer Ellis took the first steps toward her current position as president and chief chemist at Lawton-based Cosmetic Specialty Labs (CSL) as a college freshman in 1998 when she served as an intern with the company.
Under the mentorship of Ann Nalley, Ph.D., long-time professor of chemistry at Cameron University, Ellis was among the first Oklahoma college students who participated in the inaugural class of the OCAST Intern Partnership program.
Today, she leads the company and continues to employ interns through the OCAST partnership more than 20 years after her own intern experience.
“As a freshman at Cameron University who hadn’t had an instrument class, I ran an instrument all summer long working on projects that would help both Cosmetic Specialty Labs and Cameron University,” Ellis told Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell on a recent Innovate That podcast, which is sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST).
The OCAST Intern Partnership program is a paid internship that places Oklahoma college students in real world laboratory settings on a cost-share basis between the company and the state agency.
“That OCAST internship created an entire project that lasted three years for Cameron and had other interns,” Ellis said. “And I took the paper that I wrote for all that research to regional competition and actually won at regional for my paper.”
Today, not only does CSL employ interns through the OCAST Intern Partnership with Cameron University, but some of its client firms have benefitted from the program with their own interns, she said.
“It’s always valuable for a student to have an opportunity, particularly a STEM student, to have some time in industry behind a bench or sitting in front of an instrument,” Elllis said. “But the biggest thing is just to have exposure to the way a busines is run and exposure to OCAST and being able to have help with our projects begin facilitated and the support it gives you.”
Cosmetic Specialty Labs was founded in 1973 by Ellis’ grandmother, the late Edna Hennessee, who died at age 91 in 2011.
Today, CSL is a custom, private label turnkey manufacturer that produces cosmetics, packaging and design for a wide range of global clients as well as over-the-counter topical drugs.
CSL employs about 60 people at a 170,000 square-foot manufacturing facility in Lawton.
“We have a turnkey product that is ready for our customer, that is totally customized from concept to the formula, concept of the package to the delivery to our customers,” Ellis said. “We can take a customer from any area of the development of their product, whether they are at the concept phase or already have a product and are switching manufacturers.”
CSL produces cosmetics and OTC drugs for clients across the U.S. and in 45 countries worldwide.
More than two decades after serving in the first class of OCAST interns, Ellie continues to see the value that OCAST and its partners in the Oklahoma Innovation Model bring to Oklahoma innovators.
“It’s unbelievable that we have the resources for innovation in our state that we do,” Ellis said. “It doesn’t matter where they are in the life of their firm. They could be a startup company or someone who’s been in business since 1973 and they have this innovative product they need help with getting to the market.”
Bottom line, the Oklahoma Innovation Model provides support for businesses at any state of its lifecycle.
“I kind of feel there is an illusion that OCAST and i2E and the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance are just for startup companies,” she said. “But they are so valuable, particularly coming out of COVID, for a firm in our state to be able to relaunch itself, rebrand itself, pivot in some way. It’s an amazing resource for a manufacturer.”
Listen to the Innovate That podcast with Jennifer Ellis at https://www.podbean.com/ew/pb-wz3yp-10354ae.