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Introducing Girls to Engineering Through GRIT and Failure

Thursday, February 21, 2019 8:00 am CST

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Chances are that on any given day when checking your Instagram, Facebook or Twitter feeds, you’ll discover something being celebrated by the masses. From National Taco Day (Oct. 4) to International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Sept. 19) to Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be with You on May 4), there’s a day for everyone. For 3M, Feb. 21, Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, is one of those days.

Around the globe, 3M’s engineers are a driving force behind the company’s success and innovative products. And the innovation extends beyond the walls of our labs and into the community. For Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, we’re featuring 3M Chemical Engineer and Technical Manager Dawn Muyres. She’s a part of the growing movement of people inspiring girls’ futures so they learn that they have a role when it comes to engineering a better world.

In the fall of 2018, Dawn led a group of six girls, ages 8 to 14, in the FIRST® LEGO® League where they applied science, engineering and math concepts to develop solutions to the challenge of mitigating the effects of long-term space travel on the human body, in addition to designing, building and programming a robot to perform autonomous “missions” on a playing field.

“I was so excited to coach this group of girls, not only because one member of the team is my daughter, but because I’m helping expand their minds and ideas of what they can do in the world,” shared Dawn.

“The best part of the challenge was that you got to work with your friends on a real problem,” said Dawn’s daughter, Bella. “You got to learn a bunch of stuff that even your teachers don’t know and maybe even change the world.”

“It was fun to start with a group of people who didn’t really know each other, and over time became a team through engineering,” said Erin, another member of the group.

“I loved the teamwork,” commented Elsa, a 12-year-old in the group.

And while the team focused on finding solutions for the real-world challenges, for Dawn, the challenge was to step back, allow them to try something, fail and try again. Encouraged to follow GRIT—a new way of teaching that stands for Guts, Resilience, Integrity and Tenacity—Dawn had to inspire through the chance of failure.

“GRIT is about exploring, failing, learning something, getting up and trying again,” Dawn said. “Failure was the most important thing that I could let my team experience because in school we don’t let them fail—we check their homework and that they turned in their assignments.”

Failing throughout her 21 years at 3M has led to many of Dawn’s successes. “Working in a research lab we fail all the time, but we usually call it trial and error because it doesn’t sound as harsh,” shared Dawn. “We know most of our experiments will not work and will likely never show them to anyone, but the failures teach us something. Figuring out why something failed can lead down a path to new thinking, understanding and invention.”

Taking what Dawn has learned throughout her career at 3M helped her be a better mentor to the team. “As a coach you need to step back, stay calm and let the girls make the decisions,” Dawn explained. “This is their chance to learn how things work or don’t. Problems can be solved in many ways, and no one way is right. Let them go, fail and explore, and maybe someday they will do something epic.”

On Dec. 10, Dawn and her group didn’t win the team challenge, but they walked away with the Spirit Award. More importantly, they walked away knowing it’s more than okay to fail and that engineering is awesome.

Dawn is one of the amazing 3Mers who volunteer with FIRST, an organization that promotes youth engagement in STEM. In addition to volunteer hours from 3Mers, 3M currently donates $1.3 million per year in product and cash donations to FIRST, including sponsoring teams in the U.S., Turkey, Poland and Brazil. Find out more about 3M’s commitment to education and FIRST.

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