Meet four amazing female engineers on the front lines at 3M
Jul 2, 2020

Never has the career goal of improving lives been more evident than in these unprecedented times. So when Woman Engineer Magazine listed 3M fifth on their list of Top 50 Workplaces, we were excited to highlight female 3M engineers whose roles are directly related to the manufacturing of 3M respirators. Read on to learn how these four inspiring women are tackling the challenges COVID is presenting head-on and how 3M’s culture of inclusivity has set them up for success in facing the pandemic.

Jessica Howden

Improving lives and respecting personal needs

As an engineering technology manager based out of 3M’s global headquarters in Maplewood, Minn., Jessica Howden and her team are focused on designing, building and procuring the equipment 3M uses to make the respiratory products at its plants. “With the high surge in demand for respirators globally, our team has been busy both building new machines as well as looking for opportunities to improve our current machines to make more product available,” explained Jessica. “My role is to make sure we have the resources we need to be able to help complete these projects and remove any barriers the team is facing since we are on an as-fast-as-possible schedule.”

The inspiration to engineer everyday items differently so they work better is not a new idea to Jessica. Actually, it’s what inspired her to become an engineer at a young age. “My dad was an engineer, so he would oftentimes include me in projects he was working on,” shared Jessica. “One I distinctly remember was trying to make a self-reeling fishing pole for one of his friend’s children who loved to fish but wasn’t able to physically perform the motion of reeling.” Jessica remembers that it was an incredible way to use her mind to help another person, but it wasn’t until high school that she decided she was interested in Biomedical Engineering, specifically in the Cardiovascular area. “My younger sister was born with a heart defect and had a few open-heart surgeries. I was interested in the equipment and devices that the doctors used for these types of procedures,” Jessica said.

Now with 17 years as an engineer at 3M, Jessica clearly sees the potential impact she and her team can have on improving lives, and how 3M’s approach to flexibility and collaboration is allowing her to find success and balance. “My husband works at a large hospital, and with Covid impacting his role, he has often worked longer-than-typical hours on-site, which provides challenges when I need to ensure  our family’s needs are being met  all while keeping my work  going on critical 3M projects  ,” shared Jessica. “My team knows that during the day, I might have to step away from work for a bit to keep everything running. I’ve been fortunate to have a top-notch team all around on these projects, with everyone really committed to the goal of adding respirator capacity and respecting and understanding everyone’s personal needs as we work remotely.”

Layhian Tuas SG

Building community and keeping employees safe

“My job is to help keep the 3Mers on my team safe while ensuring quality products and service and efficient operations, in addition to making sure my team is engaged and every member is developing their skill sets,” explained Lay Hian Tan, value stream leader at 3M.

Based in Singapore, Lay’s role went into overdrive starting in January. She recalled, “Our operations ramped up to 24/7 right around the Lunar New Year. My team realized instantly the role they played in getting the products healthcare workers and first responders needed in order to help save lives of patients, so many cancelled their holiday plans to help maximize manufacturing operations of N95 respirators.”

Cancelling annual Chinese New Year plans is not a normal occurrence for Lay and her team, so it was extremely important to Lay that she leaned more than ever into 3M’s culture of inclusion and collaboration to ensure her team was able to find time to recharge. This meant reaching out to a broader network of 3Mers. “The support from local, regional and global  teams allowed for essential value streams and plants to continue operating safely,” said Lay. “We had significant help from supply chain and sourcing teams who worked hard to clear transportation obstacles for many critical raw materials as countries began shutting down during the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in Asia.”

The investment in its people was one of the first things that Lay noticed about 3M and why she applied more than 17 years ago after graduating from university. “I applied to 3M because I was intrigued by a listing for a technology development engineer role for flex circuits,” shared Lay. “It was an uncommon position from other job listings and made me realize that 3M is a company that invests in people, technology and innovation.”

Ashley Latola

Communicating and providing expertise

3M’s global reach has increasingly come into play since COVID-19 impacted the world, and Ashley Latola has seen it first-hand in her role as a systems engineering specialist at 3M. “The opportunity to lead a team of systems engineers scaling up new equipment as part of this response has been challenging and humbling,” said Ashley. “I’m responsible for providing expertise and technical control solutions to automate the equipment used to create our products. Since the pandemic,we’ve prioritized respirator manufacturing to provide healthcare personnel, first responders, and other critical workers with the PPE they need to do their jobs.”

Ashley echoes Lay in that inclusivity and communication have played a huge role in her team’s success during this crisis. “3M’s innovation thrives on diversity, and the company embodies a culture of inclusivity to ensure all voices are heard. My team’s input was heard when we were able to advise on safe working recommendations very early on during the pandemic to help keep our teams at plants safe as we scaled up the machines.”

With 14 years of engineering experience, all at 3M, Ashley is incredibly proud of her team and the company. 3M’s reputation as a great company to work for attracted Ashley as she was starting her career: “The allure of 3M was that it’s a global technological leader in innovation, directly headquartered out of my home state of Minnesota,” shared Ashley.

Paula Smart

Empowering and maintaining quality
Paula Smart, Advanced Quality Specialist, Personal Safety Division, has always been a problem solver. “When I was a sophomore in high school, I took my first Chemistry course, and after that, I knew I wanted to combine chemistry with problem-solving and become a chemical engineer,” she explains. That curiosity has placed Paula in her current position where she leads the team who ensures 3M continues to produce high-quality N95 respirators.

“I’ve been working on qualifying new sources of supply for raw materials, working with cross-functional teams to determine qualification plans to get new equipment up and running on a compressed timeline, and training new operators and engineers as we add capacity in new locations,” said Paula. “Most recently, I was able to go to one of our newer manufacturing locations to complete quality training on N95 products and procedures, which allows 3M to increase capacity to manufacture N95 respirators,” she says.

Though her work has significantly ramped up, Paula still feels empowered to make the right decisions for her family, something that she says has been a constant throughout her 24 years as an engineer. “3M has always supported me, especially as a female engineer. When I had my children, I was able to take the time off I felt was necessary without any pressure to come back early. I have also been able to use 3M’s FlexAbility program to work from home when needed. This type of environment is important to me, and even though I’m extra busy now, it hasn’t faltered.”

Learn how an inclusive environment at 3M allows 3Mers to thrive, even under the pressures of a pandemic at 3M.com/careers.

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