40 Under 40 Entrepreneur Uses Engineering Skills To Bring People Affordable Glasses
By: Marlese Lessing, Student Written Communications Specialist, UConn Materials Science and Engineering Department
The daughter of an optometrist and a Farmington native, MSE alumna and Connecticut businesswoman Stephanie Higgins Bealing is using her materials science and engineering experience to push the gauntlet on the eyeglasses industry, winning her numerous awards, getting herself named as one of Connecticut’s 40 under 40, and netting her national recognition for her business, Replacement Lens Express. Her previous jobs have included being a fuel cell engineer for Rolls Royce, a technology developer for UTC Aerospace and a project lead for an MCHX coating project at Carrier Corporation.
What inspired you to get into engineering?
I was really into Stephen Hawking as a kid. My dad definitely pushed me into the sciences, and after I graduated high school, I got a degree in physics, with a focus in geophysics, from Hamilton College. I got the opportunity to go to Antarctica and study the geochronology of underwater volcanoes through the United States Ocean Drilling Program, using alpha-decay spectroscopy. We actually discovered a new underwater volcano on that trip.
While I was in college, I took a class in ceramics, and it inspired me to learn more about the physical and engineering aspect of it. I wanted a college with a good engineering program and that was close to home, so UConn was ideal. I pursued my masters in solid oxide ceramics soon after I got my Bachelor’s, in 2004.
What struck you about your time at the MSE department?
I was here for two years, but I got to work with so many excellent people. I worked as a graduate assistant at the Connecticut Global Fuel Cell Center (now C2E2), and it was a wonderful master’s experience. The faculty opened up so many opportunities for me, especially to travel internationally and collaborate with some of the top industry experts in the field. I got to visit Imperial College in London for a conference about solid oxide fuel cells.
Professor Mark Aindow and Professor Pamir Alpay were both especially helpful. They connected me with a large range of people in the field, which helped me land a job working with fuel cells for Rolls Royce in London, and later with UTC Power (now called UTC Aerospace). When I graduated in 2006, I left UConn MSE with such a great mindset about industry and collaboration.
What are some of the other resources the MSE Department offered you?
I was blown away at the exposure and opportunity I was offered. I felt like I was an entrepreneur with my projects. I got to design my master’s thesis project as I wanted to, and work with measurement equipment that I never could have imagined getting access to. I made a ton of great connections and got a lot of lifelong exposure to a field that holds a very dear place in my heart.
At one of the conferences I was sent to in Denmark, I was asked to talk about my master’s thesis in solid oxide fuel cells. I got to network and talk about my project with some of the top people in the field, which was incredible.
Where are you right now?
After working in the engineering world for a while, I decided to pursue my master’s in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University in 2008. In 2010, I launched online, home-delivery eyeglass lens replacement service, Replacement Lens Express, as a side-project. The popularity exploded after just one year, and I continued to pursue it to this day.
The company offers prescription glasses at an affordable rate to people who need replacement lenses. The prices are 30 percent less than commercial prices for most major brands, and we’re even offering our own in-house lens. We’re the only female-owned online optical lens company, and we’re bringing in a great amount of new and repeat customers in over 55 countries. It’s a new way for people to get affordable glasses.
How did your experiences in the MSE Department help you get to that point?
My master’s experience really taught me how to put myself out there, to be assertive and to stand up for myself. As a businesswoman now, it’s a crucial skill.
Dr. Aindow’s microscopy class was also a great help. It was very writing-intensive, and he wanted to help us, the students, improve our writing. It helped me learn to communicate my ideas clearly and effectively, which is a skill I use all the time now.