Monica Serban is a new Montanan, having moved to Missoula with her family this summer.
Serban, a new faculty member at the University of Montana, was most recently in Boston. She's lived in Utah, Nebraska, North Carolina, and years ago, her native Romania.
She had an opportunity to take a job in Maine, but she chose Montana instead, and she's ready to make a home in the Big Sky and make a difference in the lives of students and others in her community.
"I think it was the people and the attitude that I saw here at the university, a 'Let's do it' attitude, and kind of that feeling that people want to improve things and move things forward and make things better and greater," Serban said.
"I felt that this is the place where I can bring in something of my own and build something for students."
The beautiful surroundings and nice people are a bonus, as well as a contrast to the "neurotic New Englanders" she left behind.
"You don't have people honking the horn at each other all the time and screaming at each other. I think that's a plus," Serban said.
Serban is one of 33 new faculty members at UM this year, according to the Office of the Provost.
She was drawn to the materials science program because it's new and pulls together UM, Montana Tech, and Montana State University. It also builds bridges between academia and industry.
"I think it's great that it taps into this collaborative aspect of science because, nowadays, it's all about collaboration, working together globally in the real world," she said.
"I felt that everybody involved in the program is very enthusiastic about the program and the potential."
Serban's background is in industry, and she herself worked for Allergan on medical devices, specifically surgical meshes for soft-tissue repair. In fact, she said Allergan is donating a significant amount of equipment for her lab at UM.
The equipment was due to arrive Friday, and she was expecting a cell culture hood, a refrigerator and freezer, spectographers, and a fluorescent microscope. She said the microscope alone is worth as much as $50,000, and all the items are only a couple of years old.
The company doesn't need the pieces because it is closing some medical device sites, and Serban is grateful it chose to outfit her lab as a result.
"They could have taken the equipment somewhere else, but they decided to give it to the university and to me for use so we could use it for research," Serban said.
The students who are part of the materials science program are seeking doctorate degrees and bring a variety of backgrounds to their studies, Serban said. In the mix are engineers, chemists, metallurgists, and possibly a biomedical engineer.
"That's the nice thing about the materials science, is it's very broad and it can really apply to a lot of disciplines," she said.
She is passionate about medical devices and especially the advances that are possible in the field of orthopedics, and she looks forward to establishing relationships with St. Patrick Hospital and Community Medical Center.
Materials scientists are in demand in many other fields, such as the automotive industry, and she's excited to help students find their passions, whether in education or industry, and across materials science disciplines.
"I think it's a really hot field, if you will, and it lends itself to a lot of jobs that are out there," Serban said.
Off campus, Serban and her husband, Bobby Serban, are reveling in their new state and neighborhood with their twin 6-year-old girls.
"My kids are city slickers, so we're getting them slowly into the different pace of life," Serban said.
They have gone to the National Bison Range and they have tried out some hikes. They are already figuring out their favorite kid-friendly restaurants, like Five on Black, Tamarack Brewing Company, Market on Front, and of course pizza at Mackenzie River Pizza.
They bought a house in the Prospect neighborhood, and neighbors might be Serban's favorite thing about Montana so far. One has a dachshund, and she knows the Serban girls want a dog (a golden retriever), so she swings by their home when she takes her own pup for a walk.
"We have awesome neighbors," Serban said. "A few days after we moved here, we had that super storm. One of the trees in our backyard fell."
She and her husband have rented in the past, and they weren't quite sure how to take care of the tree. One of her neighbors loaned them some tools, then a festive gathering unfolded out of the blue.
"We started working on the tree, and five minutes later we had five neighbors helping us. It turned into this little neighborhood party, and we were done in half an hour.
"It was so nice to bond with everybody and see how nice everybody is."