Debbie Mielewski

image of Debbie Mielewski

Ford Motor Company Research
Senior Technical Leader, Sustainable & Advanced Materials & Additive Manufacturing
Additive Manufacturing


University of Michigan, BSE Chemical Engineering, 1986
University of Michigan, MSE Chemical Engineering, 1993
University of Michigan, Ph.D. Chemical Engineering, 1998

Career Summary

I went from chemistry measurements, to polymer processing, to polymer material development, to sustainable plastics. Recently, I’ve worked with nano particles such as graphene and even 3d printing. I have been able to create the best job in the world at Ford Motor Company Research! My current job is to research, develop and implement more sustainable plastic materials on our vehicles. We have been successful over the past 20 years, replacing a dozen plastics with alternatives that have less impact on the environment and use plants instead of petroleum.

Now, all North American built vehicles from Ford have soy seat cushions, backs and headrests. The technology saves over 15M pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted annually. That’s just one technology. Now we have a dozen bio-based materials on our vehicles, many of which are “waste” products of agriculture such as wheat straw and agave fiber. The materials pass all durability and performance requirements. Many times, they are better than the petroleum based plastics that they replace!


The Dr. Haren Gandhi Research Award- highest level of recognition for technical accomplishment at Ford. I won it several years ago for pioneering the sustainable materials program at Ford Research.

Launched the first soy-based foam in 2007 on the Ford Mustang. I interviewed with media outlets like CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, etc. It was really exciting!

One last career highlight was giving a TED Talk. I was really nervous!

What excites you about your career?

I am excited to be contributing to a future better world and I am proud to work for a company (Ford) that invests in the future. I have really found a career that is satisfying to me, fun and where I can make real contributions. You don’t have to work in sustainability directly to practice it in every job you have–so join me! Very recently, we have begun working toward reducing ocean plastic and finding uses for it in automotives.

We always dream big! Working with other major companies like John Deere and Coca Cola in the sustainability realm is also one of our favorite ways to make a larger impact.

Time spent at U-M

My time at UM was spent making friends and hitting the books far more often than I ever thought I would have to. Many Friday (yes, Friday) nights were spent in the grad library doing homework or preparing for exams. I enjoyed dorm life, however, and when I returned home after studying, the parties would still be going on. Yes–I joined them!
I loved the first taste of independence and living away from home. I am more of a “camaraderie-loving” person, so I didn’t like that performance was so intense and competitive. Once, I even got 12% on an exam! Shhh…..Maybe that has changed a bit over the years.

Favorite Classes
This will likely reveal how nerdy I am, but my favorite class was a fractals grad course taught by Professor Ziff. Even though my later thesis had nothing to do with fractals, I asked Bob to be my advisor. He is a smart and fantastic person! I love when I still get to see him around town!

Advice to Students
Many students think that they aren’t smart enough to be a great Chemical Engineer. They are tempted to move to another degree where they can get really high grades. I tell them that ChemE is really the best engineering degree you can get, and UM is one of the best places to get it. You can do almost any kind of work with a ChemE degree. I advise them to put the effort in and they will be really glad they did.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I married a PhD ChemE (Kevin Ellwood) from UM (Go Blue again!) that I met at Ford Research, and we live near the stadium. We have football tickets and host tailgates all fall for our UM friends. I have 2 kids, Tate (20) and Tara (17). We love to hike in Canada and the US. Funny thing, our daughter just started working at Ford Research on an internship. She is very interested in Chemical Engineering and the environment, as well.