Staff Spotlight: Justin Sturkie, Quality Assurance Scientist
Justin Sturkie joined Scientific Bioprocessing, Inc. (SBI) in October 2020. He graduated from Penn State University with a BS in biology in 2015 and joined SBI after several successful stints working in labs focused on quality systems, method development, and process efficiency.
We recently spoke with Justin about his career journey to SBI, his role within the company, and SBI’s deep commitment to quality assurance and continual improvement.
What first sparked an interest in biology and exploring a career in the sciences?
From a very young age, my parents encouraged me into the sciences. They bought me microscope sets and telescopes, but at the time I obviously didn’t have any interest in a particular field. Then in high school, I took an intro to biology and I was just fascinated by life on a microscopic level. As soon as I looked at a slide of pond water under a microscope and saw how many living things were in just a drop of water, I was fascinated.
I took a second biology class in high school my senior year. My teacher recognized my passion and asked me what I planned to pursue in college. And in that moment, I thought why not biology?
In college, I wanted to keep myself “a mile wide, an inch deep,” so I pursued a general course, but I took science classes here and there. I decided to stick with biology when I worked in a neuroscience lab my junior and senior years. I got to see how all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together and that really solidified pursuing biology.
What did you do before joining SBI and how did you connect with the company?
My first job out of Penn State was at PPG Industries in a paint chemistry lab. It was a great learning experience to see how science is employed in an industrial setting. I did a lot of R&D work there and custom formulations, but that’s where I got my first taste of working in Quality. Knowing I was the last person to touch a gallon of paint before it went to a customer meant a lot to me.
After PPG, I worked for Atrium Innovations, which has since been acquired by Nestle. I took the deep dive into Quality at Atrium. I did a lot of product testing, but I also dove deeper into the science and philosophy of Quality itself. The depth of information and expertise that went into crafting a great Quality Management System was mind blowing to me. I was part of the microbiology unit and we were a tight team.
Eventually, I became involved in regulatory and learned a lot about ISO certification, which is one of the biggest names in Quality.
I was ready for a change and was looking to join a smaller company where my mix of skills could be more useful. I saw a job posting at SBI, I went for it, the stars aligned, and now I’m here.
Prior to joining SBI, what was your most memorable project, accomplishment, or professional development experience?
Receiving internal auditor accreditation for ISO auditing. That was the first “proof is in the pudding” accomplishment where I knew I could do big things with that accreditation. Internal auditing, in my opinion, is one of the fundamental processes for running a great Quality organization.
What is your role at SBI and the company’s emphasis and approach on QA?
Our Quality system is developing and evolving and we’re solidifying the foundation of our program. We’re doing a lot of foundational work right now. We’re determining what ISO certification we want to pursue and what the FDA might require.
We’re taking all the great things we do and developing standard operating procedures and other Quality documentation. We’re working on Continuous Improvement, executing Quality assurance testing, digitizing our safety data, and other processes so we’re ready for any certification process that comes down the road.
Right now, Jim Clancy and I are working on our Six Sigma belts through the Baldrige Foundation Lean Six Sigma accreditation program. We just finished our yellow belts, and we are working toward our green belts.
Quality is a major priority for SBI and it’s nice to see the team’s hard work in this area coming to fruition. We always make sure to keep our customers top of mind when it comes to Quality.
What do you and the SBI team do to ensure the continual improvement of SBI’s products?
Customer input and feedback are very important to our Quality system. Customers tell us what our products need to do, then R&D figures out how to do what our customers need, and then Quality tests our products to make sure things work the right way.
I always think about ways we can be harder on our products than our customers. Testing and calibration are important, and we’ll dive deeper into testing once we move past our R&D phase some more.
Right now I’m testing a lot of readers, analyzing the data, and identifying trends, which will help us improve performance.
How would you characterize the relationship between folks in the lab and on the floor and SBI’s leadership team?
In my experience, 90% of the workforce at big corporations never meet or interact with c-level executives. It’s the polar opposite here at SBI. All of us are on a first-name basis with SBI’s c-suite.
When I first came in, they said this company is a family. Most companies say that and they’re just talking, but here it’s real. We all look out for each other. Our leaders are only a text or call away and they are onsite frequently so you meet them face-to-face. There is no ladder here. If you need a direct line of communication to our leaders, you can get it.
Who is your favorite college football team, who is their biggest rival, and what’s your go-to good luck ritual when they need a big win?
The Penn State Nittany Lions. I bleed blue and white. Our biggest rival is Ohio State, but if our President John Moore asks, you can tell him it’s Rutgers University, his alma mater.
Every game, my wife and I and our friends make buffalo chicken dip, and we have mandatory jerseys that everyone has to wear no matter what.
Talk to me about carving Christmas ornaments. How did you get into that and what material do you use to make them?
A friend of mine is really into woodworking and likes to carve wooden spoons. I did that for a while but I got bored. I saw an online video about carving Santas, so I started whittling Santas. Then I moved on to carving other Christmas ornaments like snowmen and Christmas trees that I give away to friends and family as gifts.