Best Commitment to Education Finalist: 3M

3M: Helping Students Launch Careers in Emerging Industries

3M's 40 year partnership with the Saint Paul Public Schools system exposes an entire community to STEM and brings opportunity to children in need.


Three out of four of the 39,000 students attending Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) live in poverty: 75 percent are students of color and 40 percent reside in homes where English isn’t the first language. The second largest school district in Minnesota, SPPS is located in 3M’s Global Headquarters community.

Students who enter science, engineering, or business careers often know someone in the field. But the exposure and opportunity gap to participate in today’s increasingly STEM economy is huge for students whose parents may not have the education, financial resources, or personal connections. This is where 3M’s 40-year partnership with SPPS comes in. Together, they’ve created a strategy that makes science interesting, relevant, and future careers a reality.

What 3M Has Accomplished

For 40 years, 3M has partnered on initiatives with Saint Paul Public Schools. The Science and Engineering Iniatives (SEIS) was created by the superintendent, district curriculum staff, high school principals, teachers, nonprofit partners, University of Minnesota, and 3M. The program’s goal is to increase student interest/achievement in STEM and graduate more students into post-secondary STEM disciplines. The strategy consists of three parts:

  1. Invest in district-wide curriculum to be used by all schools.The best indicator of student success is a qualified classroom teacher. To this, 3M provides a STEM curriculum and materials that are tested, integrated, and engaging for grades K-12. The school district handles teacher training, computers, and implementation. Many elementary teachers feel ill-prepared to teach science, so the district assigns science coaches to work with them, and sometimes specialists teach the course, ensuring a consistent curriculum for a pipeline of prepared students. Because of the superintendent’s commitment to STEM, all students receive a minimum of 100 minutes of science instruction weekly.

  2. Provide informal student learning opportunities such as field trips aligned with curriculum and afterschool STEM programs.More than 1,100 middle and high school students participate in STEM camp or afterschool programs like Mathcounts, FIRST® LEGO® League, FIRST® Robotics, and Renewable Energy Competition.

  3. Solidify the partnership with elementary, middle and high schools near 3M. For 10 years, 3M flooded schools with volunteers/mentors focusing on STEM and college preparedness. 3M funds a scientist retiree who serves as the program coordinator, bridging connections between 3M and the schools. The partnership is proof that targeted volunteer initiatives work.

    Students have an advantage in overcoming obstacles to graduation and considering careers in science and math, thanks to the hundreds of 3M employee/retiree volunteers, many from similar diverse backgrounds as the students. Leveraging curriculum and funding, scientists/engineers share their skills and career inspiration in the classroom as eMentors, science fair project advisors, and judges.

Why This Project Makes Sense

In 2012 student surveys evaluating 3M’s eMentoring, 92 percent of the children indicated they learned the importance of career skills; 81 percent learned interviewing skills; 77 percent understand how education relates to future careers; and 75 percent learned knowledge and skills needed for college.

From 2004 to 2011, district dropout rates were cut in half, with 67 percent of 2012 graduates pursuing post-secondary education. Results on the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (the annual state test) have increased in science, reading, and math. From 2008 to 2012, all student groups increased the percentage of science proficient students. Student performance also rose in reading and math proficiency.

Annually, 3M hosts a recognition lunch for the top 10 students at its two partner high schools. The first year, none of the students were majoring in the sciences or business.  This year, all 20 are majoring in sciences or business and enrolled at top ranked universities such as Tufts University, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin, or Rochester Institute of Technology.

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