The shoe must go on



Darla Ellis, Missouri S&T 2006 chemical engineering grad. Photo by B.A. Rupert

Darla Ellis begins her workday like many of us do – standing in front of an open closet, pondering what to wear. She takes the time to find the pair of shoes that will coordinate perfectly with her outfit. But her decision never involves pumps or flats. No, for Ellis the perfect shoes are Nikes, every time.

In Ellis’ work, wearing Nikes is a matter of practicality. “We’re a pretty casual bunch here. There are days I might have to crawl behind a big piece of machinery and that’s not really something you want to do in a business suit.”

But wearing Nikes is also part of her job. Ellis, a 2006 chemical engineering grad, is a manufacturing engineer II for Nike’s plant in St. Charles, Mo. She works in extrusion, where sheets of plastic are developed for use in various types of Nike athletic shoes.

“Our plastic sheeting is used in shoes with the Nike Air logo,” Ellis explains. “It’s used in the air bags that give cushion to the heel.”

Today, Ellis is wearing Shox Experience+ in black on black with gray and red accents. They’re not her favorite pair (she’s got a pair of personally designed ones that she loves right now), but she likes them for work because they’re easy on the feet when she stands all day, which Ellis frequently does.

Most of Ellis’ work involves process engineering. She prefers jobs that challenge her intellect. Right now she’s working on a plan to improve the areas she’s responsible for at the St. Charles plant. “It’s a doozy of a project all the way around,” she says.

She has also dabbled in materials research, project management, product development and equipment upgrades. “It’s a variety of work all the time,” she says.

As a kid, Ellis was a whiz at math and science, but she wanted to go into business. When she got to college, however, she quickly realized it didn’t hold her interest and she switched to engineering.

“I read a magazine article about a little boy who suffered a medical accident and was fully revived thanks to his father having inside knowledge about an experimental drug,” Ellis says. “The article made mention of his father being a chemical engineer and I thought, I can do that.”

Despite her non-mechanical background, her favorite project so far has been the upgrade of the plant’s winder – probably because of the challenge it posed.

“I’m a chemical engineer, mind you, so equipment upgrades aren’t exactly my forte.”

In the St. Charles plant, workers melt resin and extrude it in sheets anywhere from 12 inches to 80 inches wide. The sheets are then cooled and sent through the winder, which wraps the product around a rotating shaft to whatever diameter the customer requires.

The system had parts in it from the 1970s, Ellis says. “We updated the system with all magnetic particle clutches. They’re great because even tension is always a problem with winding and these clutches adjust tension without any jerking. It was more involved than I expected, but I learned a lot.”

Wearing Nikes may just be part of her job, but Ellis has been a fan of the shoes for years.

When she began a summer internship with Nike during her senior year at Missouri S&T, Ellis already owned a pair of well-loved Nikes. She returned to campus at the end of the summer with eight pairs.

“It’s been a running joke with my friends,” Ellis says of her shoe count, which has increased to 25 pairs. “I love their products.”

Darla Ellis is just one example of a Missouri S&T graduate who got her dream job after college. Getting a good job is easy with a degree from Missouri S&T. Average starting salary for an S&T grad is $56,700 – that’s the second-highest starting salary in the Midwest (

By Mary Helen Stoltz
This story was originally published in Missouri S&T Magazine.
Read additional stories from the Spring 2009 issue.


  1. theertheswaran.B says

    @Darla Ellis,Congratulations for getting exposed to Chemical Engineering due to the influence of some one who did advice self medication due to the knowledge to his lovely son,
    from Business to chemical Engineering what a marvelous Journey Dear Ellis , keep flying , and i am sure Missouri university of Science and Technology must have influenced your style and your contribution to the society will be great factor Ellis.
    I am from India, and my son “Muthukumaran Logana than” is getting every thing from M S&T, hope he emulates many wonderful and successful student of M S&T,like Dear Ellis,and pay forward to the the society. He is doing his MS ,MECHANICAL focusing on one idea,making that One idea of his life,thinking on it, dreaming on it,breathing on it, and living with it,yes that is the way for mastering the success
    A great place and a wonderful guide he got by divine will,
    M S&T,Mech-department , Dr.Bristow,a beacon of Light with an amazing grace.
    Thank you M S&T,Mechanical DEPARTMENT.
    I wish i could get as many pairs of Nike shoes(25 at the moment) like dear Ellis.! and share it with many have not people around the world.
    Thank you Dear Ellis for being a Path finder, innovator,and i am sure the future is bright for all graduate of M S&T,
    Thank you “Mary Helen Stoltz” for your wonderful post,but for you i would not have known Daria Ellis.”Leader without borders.”
    Thank you friends for making life blissful here and now
    with respect and gratitude