Sharon Vergez Vercellotti
LSU BS ’63; Ohio State MS ‘65
President, V-LABS, Covington, LA
Sharon Vergez received her BS in Chemistry from LSU in 1963. As an undergraduate she worked in the laboratory of Professor Jim Traynham who has been a life-long mentor. Sharon recalls, “In my junior year the faculty recommended me for an NSF summer internship award and that was granted for me to spend the summer doing research at the University of Arkansas. That was a real turning point in my career goals. The abstract of the paper which I completed that summer was submitted for presentation at the next spring ACS meeting in Dallas. The LSU Chemistry Department saw to it that I would be able to go and I gave my research report.” A paper titled, “The Far Infrared Spectra of Some Amine and Aqua Complexes of Nickel and Cobalt” was published with her Arkansas mentor (J. Phys. Chem. 1963, 67, 2149).
Following graduation from LSU, Sharon joined the graduate program at Ohio State University. She worked under the direction of Professor Darryl Busch in macrocyclic ligand syntheses of transition metals. Sharon remembers this as a “wonderful exciting time” in which she published three papers with Busch and completed her MS degree. She made a conscious decision not to complete a PhD in inorganic chemistry, eager to instead broaden her experience in the biomedical area. She worked in an internationally diverse group of scientists at the University of Texas Graduate Medical Research Center in Richardson, TX.
A coauthor on a 1965 paper in the Journal of Chromatography was John R. Vercellotti. Sharon and John met at Ohio State and were married in 1966 after she completed her work in Texas. By this time, John was a faculty member at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. During the Milwaukee years, Sharon worked in the Hematology Department of the Marquette Medical School, where her knowledge of macrocyclic iron ligands was beneficial to her project and professor. In time, the Vercellottis moved to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville where John was a faculty member in Chemistry and Sharon worked in a biochemistry lab at the Medical School. Their next academic home was Virginia Tech where John was a tenured full professor and Sharon worked with an oxidation-reduction enzymologist and handled everything from enzyme isolations and characterization to complex reaction kinetics. During their 10 years at Virginia Tech they had a family and Sharon started taking classes in business administration. Of this time, Sharon says, “it became more apparent to me that there was a whole emerging field of biochemical research built on the ubiquitous metabolism of carbohydrates that spanned the gamut of pharmacology, immune responses, cancer medicine, materials science, human nutrition, and renewable bioenergy. The chemistry of carbohydrates is one of the cornerstones of all of organic and biological chemistry.”
In the late 70s the Vercellotti Team made a brave commitment to embark on an entrepreneurial venture to found a broad-based carbohydrate chemistry laboratory in Covington, LA. They could see the escalating growth in the field of glycobiology and astutely observed that there were no commercial laboratories dedicated to small scale manufacture, consultation and the specialized analytical work required for the characterization of carbohydrates. Construction of a laboratory began in July 1979, along with the building of the business structure that has stood the test of time for 38 years. Sharon was bolstered by the support of colleagues in the ACS’ Division of Small Chemical Businesses and the Division of Carbohydrate Chemistry. Over the years, Sharon has been heavily involved in the ACS, with leadership roles in the Women Chemists Committee and the Strategic Planning Committee, Vision 2025. As the owner and manager of a chemical laboratory, Sharon has made it her privilege to reach out to student interns and technical support persons and encourage them in their education and careers. She is a stalwart of the women’s honorary society in chemistry, Iota Sigma Pi. She takes a special interest in STEM education, especially for young women.
Today, Sharon continues as the President of V-LABS INC that specializes in carbohydrates, polysaccharides; serving research scientists in academia and in the food, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and cosmetic industries. Of her current role, Sharon states that “although I am not in the laboratory or office everyday I am still functioning in the business. John serves as Vice President and Senior Chemist and works in the lab on assorted problems and report writing. She is a recognized authority on entrepreneurship in the context of small chemical businesses. She says, “business is a game with a goal to come out ahead through high quality science.”
In a 2014 commencement address that Sharon gave, she shared the following words of wisdom that also serve as good advice to our chemistry majors and graduate students today:
- Know your strengths and tirelessly expend yourself to invest in learning to make your talents most keenly operative.
- Possess a real ownership as dedication for service to the persons who depend on you.
- Link into the memory stream of those who leave their indelible reciprocal mark on you.
- Inspire those with whom you have shared to have hope and courage to carry out your worthwhile aspirations.
Profile contributed by Carol M. Taylor