Meet the 3M Mentor, Part 2

by Kim Moldofsky, The Maker Mom

Last week I introduced you to Jeffrey Emslander, the 3M Mentor to America's Top Young Scientist, Hannah Herbst. Click back to read about what shaped him into the 3M scientist and inventor that he is now. Today Jeff is sharing his passion for mentoring peers and students.

You have an impressive track record of mentoring people within your company as well as area youth. How and why did you get involved in mentoring?

I guess it came naturally from being in the 3M environment. From the beginning of my career I was around people willing to help others. I probably didn’t realize the impact some of those folks had on me early in my career. They offered encouragement and support. They gave me permission to do things, to make mistakes and learn from them without negative consequences. This was my introduction to the 3M environment and it just rubbed off on me.

As my career progressed, I developed some new technologies that others wanted to learn about. It was fun to teach them about what I had learned and watch them take it even further. As I gained more experience at 3M, the mentoring expanded into offering career advice or just being a sounding board for coworkers with questions about both technical and non-technical issues. It makes me feel good to be able to help others and give something back based on the experiences I’ve had in my life and career.  

What is your favorite part about mentoring adolescents?

My favorite part is experiencing the energy and excitement of adolescents who are doing and learning new things. I still have that feeling with my own work; it’s great to learn and do new things. Even so, to help others experience that feeling is often more rewarding than when I do myself.

Adolescents haven’t been taught all the “rules” yet, so they try and do different things that many experienced people might not even consider. That experience teaches them and may even take them in a new direction.

What's most challenging about mentoring adolescents?

The most challenging part is an interesting question. It may be that I have to make sure I communicate to their experience level. That means not making assumptions about their knowledge base or talking too much above their heads. I definitely don’t mean to sound like I am talking down to them. I want to communicate with them as much as I can, but I have to do it in a way that they can relate to and understand. 

What is your proudest moment as a mentor or scientist?

That's tough. I have done some things in my career that make me very proud, mainly inventing things that solved problems, that’s fun and always leaves me with an awesome feeling. For example, when I was working on the graphic film I mentioned above many people told me that my idea would not work and I was wasting my time. But I approached the problem slightly differently than they did. When I ran my first successful experiment I was super excited.

In many ways, I'm more proud of some of the folks that I worked with and mentored who succeeded in their careers. Of course, having my mentee, Hannah Herbst, win the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge is definitely one of my proudest moments! Hannah and I worked very well together and to see her win was incredibly rewarding for me.

What advice would you offer to a student who is on the fence about whether to enter the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge?

 Do It!! Just by entering forces a student to think a bit more about their idea and present it in a way they probably have not done yet. This is one of the keys to solving problems – looking at them differently and applying what you learn.

But most of all – it's just a great program. Discovery Education and 3M do an awesome job to encourage STEM programs and offer support in many different ways. The DE3MYSC website has useful pointers for people considering entering.

Go for it – you will get great support from the organization and from a 3M mentor if you become a finalist. Also, seek out a mentor at a local level. The mentor can be a teacher, parent, neighbor, or family friend. Anyone who has an interest in helping you with your project can provide very valuable insight. You could be named America’s Top Young Scientist for 2016!