Deva Hupaylo started with a Salem diploma; worked up to the Nobel Peace Prize

Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Salem graduate Deva Hupaylo with her staff at the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the Netherlands. The OPCW won the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to stamp out chemical weapons.

From horse and buggy days and one room school houses to today's tech filled school rooms, many north central Arkansas youth have gone from humble, rural beginnings to distinguish themselves as doctors and nurses, lawyers, educators, business leaders, artists and performers. But Salem High School graduate Deva Hupaylo is surely the first to have a Nobel Peace Prize on her resume.

"This is our Director General [Ahmet Uzumcu] with the Nobel Peace Prize. It's a medallion and it's real gold," Hupaylo said sitting in an Areawide Media office, showing a photograph taken after the OPCW -- the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- was given the prestigious award on Oct. 11, 2013. Did they pass it around for people to look at? "Yes, I have a chocolate one they gave us [employees]. They are preparing replicas for us. His is gold, ours will not be gold," Hupaylo laughed.

Deva Hupaylo graduated from Salem High School in 1976, began studying engineering at the University of Arkansas because she was good in math and science and has had a long, successful career as a chemical engineer. "I chose chemical engineering because, in my mind, it was easier for a woman to excel in chemical engineering instead of civil or mechanical engineering, which were traditionally male [fields]," Hupaylo said. "When I began working in chemical plants, though, I found there were few women engineers. I am the second highest ranked person in OCPW that is a woman. Out of 500 people, there are about five female managers, so I am still in a minority."

In 2010, Hupaylo, who has three grown sons, moved to The Hauge, a capitol city in the Netherlands, to work for the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, after first being turned down for the job. "A friend told me about the job opening and while I had had a good background in the chemical industry and know chemical processes and production in several countries, I said, 'I don't know anything about chemical weapons. That's not right for me,' but he said, 'Read the job description. You have just what they are looking for.'"

It first looked like Hupaylo was right. The OCPW decided she wasn't what it needed. That just prompted her to keep talking to organization officials and showing them what she had learned during years of work in chemical plants. She finally won the job she wasn't sure she wanted.

To high school classmate, Dr. Griffin Arnold, that sounds like the Deva Hupaylo he knows. "She was always very organized and determined. She has a way of making things she wants to happen. I am happy for all she's accomplished but not surprised," Arnold, a Fulton County physician, said.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons works to eliminate existing chemical weapon supplies and make sure they do not re-emerge, by getting countries to sign a treaty and give up any chemical weapon supplies they have. Hupaylo is the head of the Industry Verification Branch. She leads a division of 120 inspectors who work, once chemical weapons are removed from a country, to make sure new supplies are not manufactured. They monitor and actually inspect chemical industries in 190 countries to make sure chemicals that can be turned into weapons are being used correctly. Phosgene gas is an example. "Phosgene gas, which was used as a chemical weapon in World War One, has a lot of industrial uses now. It's used in the polycarbonate that makes your eyeglasses, and it is used in polyurethane foam, so it has a lot of peaceful uses. We make sure plants use it for its stated purposes, and not prohibited purposes."

While the OPCW usually goes quietly about its business, it has been very successful. The Nobel Peace Prize recognizes the OPCW "for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons." 190 countries have signed treaties agreeing not to produce or store chemical weapons. Thanks to the organization's work over the past 20 years, about 80 percent of the world's chemical weapons have been destroyed. Today, known chemical weapon possessor states are the U.S. and Russia. Libya still has a small amount left, and the U.S. and Russia are working to insure that Syria, which has allegedly recently used chemical weapons during an ongoing civil war, moves its weapons to a seaport where they can be removed and neutralized at sea.

Hupaylo credits Salem schools and a special group of high school classmates for giving her the foundation that has helped her be successful as an adult. "Many of my classmates have become engineers and doctors. Griffin Arnold is a doctor. Vickie McCullough and Robert Humphries are engineers. There were several nurses in my class. The class was highly motivated to excel in academics and to be of service to the community." She said her fellow high school students reinforced each other with the desire to keep achieving, and they had some very good teachers who encouraged them, and other teachers who motivated them through "fear and dislike," to excel. She added with a laugh that, "My mother was very hard on me." Inez Hupaylo, who grew up in Agnos, lives in Glenco, and Hupaylo's sister, Linda Cooper, also lives in Fulton County. Inez admits she tried to teach her daughter the importance of education and, early in her college career, she said she talked Deva out of switching from engineering to dentistry. "She had become kind of negative about chemical engineering because she thought that people in the industry did not know the long term effects chemicals they produced were causing," Inez said. "I tried to make her see that chemicals are not necessarily bad, but people need to know how to better use them. I think those early concerns about chemicals took her to where she is today."

Hupaylo said that, during her career in private industry, she always tried to work for companies that made chemicals that she felt were a benefit to the world; companies that used raw materials that are safe to produce a product that can be disposed of through incineration or other environmentally friendly means.

"Of course I am," Inez Hupaylo said when asked if she is proud of her daughter's accomplishments. However, she was quick to add, "I hate to think she is so far away from her family. I'd like to see her and her children more often."

Deva, who was in Fulton County in April for a visit, pointed out people can only work for the OWPC for six years, and she is preparing to launch a job search that will, likely, eventually bring her back to the U.S; news that should make her mother happy. In the meantime, when not working in an important job, she lives in a beautiful Holland city and is able to explore England, Spain and other European countries.

During her visit to Arkansas, she stopped in to give some advice to Salem High School's eighth grade careers class. "I told them to get as much education as soon as possible," Hupaylo said, using herself as a bad example. "[I told them] I could have done better if I had gotten an advanced degree earlier in my career. I got an MBA at age 50, which was very late. [I said,] be open to where your career can take you that is not traditional, explaining most chemical engineers work in a plant and go into management, while she chose to become an efficiency expert and was in demand helping plants in many countries improve their manufacturing processes. That experience helped her develop the knowledge and skills which led to her job working to stamp out chemical weapons.

"The organisation's motto is, "Working together for a world free of chemical weapons, and I think everyone who works there feels that they work because they are doing something that is better for the world. It is a small thing, but it's something we can do to make the world a better place for our children and neighbors," Hupaylo said. "You should not be working for money. You should be working for something that you believe in, that you enjoy doing."

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  • Congratulations to Deva and her team. I heard about this honor awhile back and it is good to see her get recognized back home.

    -- Posted by jasonnemec on Thu, Jul 17, 2014, at 9:49 AM
  • "(Reuters) - All the toxic chemicals removed from Syria under a deal with the Syrian government to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile have been delivered to destruction facilities outside the country, the global chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday.

    The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement that the 1,300 tonnes of chemicals removed from Syria were now being destroyed at various locations. The watchdog said 32 percent of the total had been destroyed by July 21."

    -- Posted by HDucker on Thu, Jul 24, 2014, at 6:20 AM
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