Having been with 3M for the past 10 years, from roles in biochemistry to engineering, Tesha Alston is very knowledgeable about the importance of STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) careers in solving everyday problems. But she was still shocked to hear that over the last decade careers in STEM grew at six times the rate of other occupations.
That was just one of the astonishing facts she learned while attending the State-Federal STEM Summit (PDF, 2 MB), an event that she was invited to because of her volunteer work encouraging young people to consider careers in STEM.
Tesha knew she wanted to go into a STEM career when her dad enrolled her in a science course at the University of Minnesota when she was young, but as she can attest from her experiences volunteering, many children don’t get the exposure to STEM that she had, a fact that was reinforced at the Summit.
“On the second day of the Summit, we had breakout sessions where we discussed emerging trends in STEM and priorities in STEM education,” Tesha explains. “Demand is increasing for careers in STEM, but students aren’t going into these majors as quickly or keeping up with this demand. And we aren’t encouraging STEM enough early on in schools – for example, less than half of K-12 schools offer basic computer science classes,” she adds. This is why Tesha spends much of her free time promoting STEM in schools and women and minorities in STEM.
Hang Loi, Manufacturing Manager, can also attest to how important it is to jumpstart students’ interest in STEM from a young age. As a child refugee and immigrant, she already faced the challenge of learning a new language in a new country but knew that she wanted a difficult yet attainable career. So when she was exposed to engineering, she decided to pursue it. And when her kids were young, she passed that mindset on, spending much of her time volunteering at their schools and encouraging students to stay curious and gain an interest in STEM.
Now, Hang focuses more on encouraging diversity in STEM, particularly with women. As a member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), she values being a role model for other women already in or considering STEM careers. And the Society values her, too, featuring her story in its recent “Breaking Boundaries” campaign.
“I think in the last five years, 3M has made great strides in bringing together women like myself in STEM careers, with the rise of grassroot groups like the Women’s Leadership Forum,” Hang says. “However, there’s still a double bind of gender and racial disparity in STEM overall, and there is a lot of work to do to change that inherent mindset and bias. It’s so important to be a role model as a woman who has been successful in STEM. Many kids can name Albert Einstein but not Marie Curie.”
That’s why she continues her work with SWE and why she will be telling her story at their conference this fall in Minneapolis.
And Tesha plans to keep taking advantage of the many resource networks 3M provides (the African American Network, Women’s Leadership Forum and the Tech Forum, to name a few) to continue to hone her leadership skills and provide an example of a successful woman in STEM for kids in her community. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” she says. “When we make ourselves more visible in our schools, we show that STEM careers are cool!”