How 3M turned an in-person STEM program for teachers into a virtual experience
Jan 14, 2020

For chemistry teacher Merridith Duellman-Joly, the opportunity to work alongside 3M researchers strengthened her bond with science. As a participant of the 3M TWIST (Teachers Working in Science and Technology) program, Merridith spent her summer working on a research project and attending virtual seminars led by 3M scientists.

What I did during summer vacation
Merridith has a unique perspective on the 3M TWIST program, as she participated in 2020 as well as several years ago. “Career reinvigoration is needed from time to time,” Merridith said. She was paired with 3M Research Specialist Dr. Stephen Roscoe. “Dr. Roscoe was an outstanding mentor. I enjoyed my experience and learned a great deal about the research process at 3M,” Merridith recalled.

Her time on-site at 3M in 2014 consisted of lab testing, data collection and analysis, team meetings, other TWIST responsibilities and Friday sack lunches where teachers visited other labs and connected with scientists.

“My greatest takeaway from 3M TWIST was the value of a collegial work environment and how it fosters the scientific process – from idea to finished product. So many individuals can have a hand in the development of a 3M product,” Merridith reflected. “Another giant takeaway was the idea of 15% culture, which is 3M’s program that allows 3Mers to use 15% of their time to pursue passion projects that may fall outside of their job description. Imagine if in the school setting, I, the chemistry teacher, could also serve 15% of my day filling another role in my school that could directly benefit our community. Wow, this could be very inspirational for many.”

Let’s TWIST again
Like Merridith, her 3M mentor Stephen is a repeat participant in TWIST, serving as a host multiple times over the years. In this role, he proposes a project in line with his work that a TWIST teacher could help support. The TWIST committee matches up 3M hosts with teachers, and they work together over the summer.

“As STEM outreach, there’s great value in giving teachers appreciation for how much science, technology and effort go into the world around us. A lot of people spend a lot of their careers optimizing technology – making everyday objects work better than before. Think Post-it® Notes, Scotch® Tape and sandpaper, they’re all vastly improved over their initial versions,” Stephen said. “That means there is a wide range of productive, interesting careers in creating this world. TWIST gives this insight to teachers and helps them demonstrate to their students that STEM is a viable career with many options. For each teacher you engage with TWIST, you can reach half a dozen classrooms per year.”

The program is accomplishing this goal, according to the results of TWIST teacher surveys. “In all cases, teachers left feeling empowered with new knowledge about STEM careers and real-world applications,” say TWIST co-chairs Kevin Frankel, advanced product development specialist in the Personal Safety Division (PSD), and Caleb Brian, new product claims specialist in the Stationery and Office Supplies Division (SOSD).

Pivoting during a pandemic
TWIST is typically a six-week paid summer program where teachers learn about 3M technology and work closely with a 3M host on a research project. In light of the pandemic, the 2020 program went virtual, was shortened to four weeks and took place only in St. Paul.

“We knew we wanted to still have a 2020 program, despite significant changes, because these teachers are always looking for ways to make their lessons more relevant in order to encourage students to pursue STEM careers. At the same time, we knew how important it was to keep our community safe. We quickly changed gears from an in-person program to a virtual program.

The seminars, covering topics from climate change to respirators, were the heart of the program this year and were well received. We are blessed with a fantastic scientific community who stepped up to do a lot of great seminars about our core and emerging technologies,” said Kevin and Caleb. Teachers shared that participating in virtual learning themselves offered insights into how they would approach distance learning with students in the coming school year.

Along with the seminars, Merridith and her fellow 2020 participants are invited to return in the future to gain an in-person lab experience. So, teachers and their 3M hosts discussed concepts and ideas related to their projects so they can hit the ground running in their future lab experiences.

Outreach with impact 
Dozens of classrooms each year adds up. Since 1984, 3Mgives has coordinated with the Minnesota Technology Association (MNtech) to give about 40 teachers across the United States the opportunity to work with 3M scientists each year. Doing the math (no pun intended), this program has impacted more than two million students in 3M communities since its start.

On a personal level, TWIST has also inspired both Merridith and Stephen to participate in additional STEM outreach. Merridith has mentored students, collaborated with a retired 3Mer to help increase student involvement in the scientific process, coordinated science fair activities for her school and supported students in competing in science fairs at the local, state, regional and international levels. At the invitation of a TWIST teacher, Stephen participates in the Brooklyn Park, Minn. Panel of Professionals, talking to middle schoolers about STEM as a career path. He is also involved in other 3M science outreach programs such as STEP (Science Training Encouragement Program) and TECH (Technical Teams Encouraging Career Horizons).

If you are a middle or high school math, science or technology teacher or know a friend or family member in the field that would be interested in participating in this exciting program, reach out to the current TWIST Committee Co-Chairs, Dr. Kevin Frankel or Dr. Caleb Brian at TWIST@mmm.com or check out the 3M website.

 

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