Sean Goheen (Host) 00:00:01
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
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Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
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Sean 00:00:55 This episode covers a wide swath of topics from first engineering jobs to transitioning to new functional areas using a STEM background to the importance of soft skills, promoting diversity in stem, and coming to Penn State. As a first generation American, any scholar, regardless of major will pull value from this conversation. Paula Garcia Todd class of 2003 has made significant contributions and drug delivery through her work at Dow Chemical DuPont, and now I F F International Flavors and Fragrances for the past 18 years and currently serves as the global strategic manager for Pharma Solutions at I F F. Her vast experience ranges from process engineering and manufacturing settings with small and large molecule active pharmaceutical ingredients to researching, creating patented polymer innovations to solve critical formulation issues for pharmaceutical companies around the world. Her technical success led to various customer facing roles, including marketing and product management, progressing to her current position.
Sean 00:01:48 Paula is passionate about introducing STEM to children. She's volunteered on boards and organizations focused on increasing the number of female and underrepresented students in STEM fields, especially engineering. For the past decade, she's developed new K 12 programs aiming to improve understanding of the real world, applicability of STEM, while changing the face of what an engineer looks like. She's been active in diversity, equity, inclusion, advocacy with an industry working through women's and Latinx employee resource groups at each of the companies to create awareness and improve company cultures. In 2019, she was named an A A A SS if then ambassador by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for her devoted work in STEM outreach, and was featured in a life-sized statute exhibit of outstanding women in STEM fields. In 2020, she was named both Woman of the Year in Engineering by Women in Technology and a community trailblazer by STEM connectors, million women mentors.
Sean 00:02:36 She received the Luminary Award from Great Minds in STEM in 2021. Paula holds a bachelor of Science with honors and a master of Science in chemical engineering from Penn State's College of Engineering. She and her husband Doug, also a Penn State alum, have three children and live in Georgia. In this episode, Paula shares her insights on coming to Penn State in the Schreyer Honors College as a first generation American, and as someone speaking English as a second language, the differences between collegiate cultures in Brazil and the United States, building cultural capital and learning from your network, finding involvement that compliments your major and career aspirations and opportunities that are just for fun. Resources for Penn State students from historically marginalized identities, particularly in engineering, pursuing an I U G, the integrated undergraduate graduate degree in a STEM field, getting into pharmaceuticals as a way to help others and getting into entry level technical roles, the importance of soft skills and how to develop and learn them moving up into pharmaceutical leadership and transitioning from technical to marketing, living and working through mergers, acquisitions, and spinoffs or separations in the corporate world, supporting STEM education for historically marginalized K 12 students and providing role models for women and girls interested in stem, the importance of asking for help in your professional life and in finding balance, the difference between mentorship and sponsorship and avoiding comparison and finding your own journey.
Sean 00:03:53 With that, let's get into our conversation with Paula Garcia Todd.
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Sean: Paula, thank you so much for joining me here today on Following the Gong. As a former member of the Scholar Alumni Society Board, I'm very excited to have you on today to talk all things STEM and marketing in a really unique career that you have. But I wanna obviously start at the very beginning and ask how did you first get to Penn State and specifically at the Schreyer Honors College?
Paula 00:04:28 So first of all, I'd love to thank you for having me. I'm so excited to be here to, you know, share a little bit of my journey, um, and, uh, I'm, I'm thrilled that, that you invited me to, to be here. Um, so I am originally from Brazil. Um, we moved to the US when I was 10 and we moved to the Pittsburgh area. And, uh, I went to high school there. I went to North Allegheny and I always knew I wanted to be an engineer. So when I started looking at schools, I was definitely looking for good engineering programs, which Penn State ranked up there. Now, where I lucked out is that I actually had a lot of friends that knew about the honors program, um, and I even had friends from that graduated before me that had gone on to the Honors College. And so, uh, just having that knowledge, I went ahead and applied. And so, you know, I'll be honest in saying that Penn State was more of a backup school for me, but on like the honors college was a stretch for me, right? So like, I was kind of like, all right, so Penn State, it falls fails, I go to Penn State for engineering, but oh my gosh, it'd be amazing to get into the Schreyer Honors College. And so when I got accepted, that really shot Penn State up to, to the top for me.
Sean 00:05:49 That's great. Now, you mentioned that you weren't born here. What advice do you have for students who are first generation Americans and for maybe whom English was not their first language growing up?
Paula 00:06:02 Yeah, so I think everyone will have a slightly different experience, but for me in particular, coming from South America, so my oldest brother is 11 years older than me, so I saw him get accepted into university in Brazil. Um, and in Brazil, the public universities, uh, you know, you don't have to pay for necessarily, but they're really hard to get into, right? And so it was instilled very early on me that I had to do super well. And quite honestly, my parents never saved money for college. Like that wasn't a thing. Um, so when it, we came to the US as you can imagine, they had a wide awakening. My oldest brother was already in college. I had another brother who was in high school then I was 10 years old myself. So, um, they were hit with the realization that they had to pay for college here, right?
Paula 00:06:51 And so, um, there were a lot of things that they didn't know. And I would say that, you know, I followed the path a little bit with my brothers in learning from what they learned coming here at, at their various stages of life. But the other thing I also did a lot is ask some of my friends' parents, because my parents just didn't have the knowledge of, you know, how do you navigate all of this? How do you apply to schools? How do you pick a school? Like, how does this work? So I really relied a lot on my friend's parents for support, for help, guidance counselors, teachers, you name it. I, I've never been shy to ask questions. Um, and I encourage others to, to do the same, ask people around you that are willing to help, even if your own parents can help you.
Paula 00:07:34 Right? The other thing for me as well is that I was lucky enough that I came at a young age, right? Being 10, um, I didn't speak any English when we moved here, but being so young, I picked it up relatively quickly. And I never took the toefl, you know, along with the SAT and things like that. But if you do feel like English is a disadvantage, I I say there's no shame in taking the toefl. Right. And, and allowing that score to, to also count within your SS a t and all of that, right? I I, I think it's, it's, the test is there for a reason, and if you feel like you need it, absolutely take it.
Sean 00:08:10 A lot of guests on the show talk about going and talking to professors and you know, you highlight your friends, families are a great resource to tap into as well, both coming into the college and once you're here, even and, and even past, um, as you know, I'm as the host here. Some of my friends' parents were great resources for me as well. And I think that's really sage advice for students. Now, speaking of students, you are obviously a scholar here in the Honors college. Can you tell us what kind of organizations you were involved in, internships that you pursue? 'cause if you're in stem, it's good to have hands-on experience in the field. So can you share any unique stories from either the leadership or the hands-on outside of classroom experiences that you may have
Paula 00:08:54 Had? For sure. So, um, I, I came into the College of Engineering. Um, I had already chosen in my mind that I wanted to be a chemical engineer. And so a lot of the activities and clubs and organizations that I did were very aligned with that. So, um, I was an officer for the American Institute of Chemical Engineers for three years. Um, I did a lot with the Society of Women Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. So a a lot along those lines. Um, on the side note, I, I love playing volleyball, so I played rec volleyball, uh, quite a bit. I love salsa dancing. I did a lot of that as well on campus. So there's, there's a lot that you can do besides just things that are focused on your major, obviously. And that's one of the beauties of going to a big school like Penn State.
Paula 00:09:44 There's a little bit of everything there. Um, but in terms of internships, I'm so glad you you mentioned that because there is nothing like getting hands-on experience because when you're sitting in an engineering classroom and you're learning about thermodynamics, you're learning all the theory and the calculations, it's not until you see it come to life and really understand how is this even utilized in the real world. And so for engineers in particular, I always say seeking internships co-ops is critical. Um, not just in better understanding what it means to be an engineer and what that work looks like, but also it, it really helps you in getting a job once you graduate because you're showing an employer, Hey, I already have some experience. I've already kind of learned a little bit on the field, um, and it looks really good on a resume. Right? So, um, while I was on campus after my freshman year, I did an internship with Bayer.
Paula 00:10:40 Um, I did a couple of internships with Merck in the pharmaceutical space. Um, I did an internship with Dow Chemical. Um, and so I took advantage every summer. I had some type of, of working experience. And the other thing I just wanted to point out, maybe for students that aren't aware, the College of College of Engineering actually has what's called an outreach and inclusion, um, office. And that's what houses a lot of these organizations like SWE and Shep and nss, b e, the National Society of Black Engineers, they have a lot of resources, tutoring, they can help you get internships, co-ops and so forth. If you are an underrepresented student in engineering, um, not a lot of universities offer that. And I think it's an amazing thing that Penn State actually has that offering to help students that may find themselves disadvantaged, maybe didn't have the right high school experience to help 'em be super successful in engineering. And they really provide the, the bridging stones to help you be successful. So, um, I think it's really important to highlight that Penn State has that resource available for underrepresented students in engineering. That
Sean 00:11:53 Is fantastic. And that is on top of all of the resources you already have, as generally an engineering student through the College of Engineering, a Penn State student through the Bank of America Career Services Center, and the Schreyer Honors College Career Development Office with Lisa Kti. So, uh, a common theme on this show, if you are a frequent listener, is there are so many resources for you here at Penn State and in the Honors College. So that's another great one, if that fits your identity. So thank you for sharing that, Paula. I wasn't aware of that. So that is great. Um, for students who may benefit from that, there was an anecdote that you shared on the questionnaire about Easter. Yes. One year in undergrad. I would love if you could share that story. 'cause I thought it was really cute.
Paula 00:12:35 Yeah, absolutely. So, um, uh, sometimes I get asked, you know, what, what was your draw for the Schreyer Honors College if Penn State was already, you know, a a really good engineering school and, and yes, the resources is what really drew me to Penn State, right? To your point, it's such a big school, there's so much available, but I also didn't wanna feel lost, and I wanted to have like that small college feel more family-like. Um, and that really came to light for me, um, my sophomore year. So like I mentioned, I grew up in Pittsburgh, went off to Penn State, and then my sophomore year my father was actually transferred to Tennessee. And I was kind of emotionally having trouble kind of grasping the fact that my parents are gonna be so far away and, you know, I'm close to my family. And, um, I really struggled a little bit.
Paula 00:13:29 Um, and I, you know, I'll admit my grades even dropped a little bit. And, uh, you know, the Schreyer Honors College took note. Um, they just wanted to know how things were going. I shared what was happening. Um, and I also shared that because there were further away, you know, coming into the springtime Easter, for example, I wasn't gonna be able to go home even to see them over Easter break or that weekend. Um, and an administrator within the Honors College actually invited me into her home for Easter Sunday, so I wouldn't be alone and I would be within a family setting. And it was probably one of the most welcoming, impactful things that anybody ever did for me, um, while I was feeling really down and lonely and, and upset, you know? And, um, to me that that's the perfect example of showing how the Schreyer Honors College really does provide kind of this smaller family-like feel within such a large environment. And I'm forever grateful, um, for that experience.
Sean 00:14:36 I love that story. I think that really speaks to, I'm not sure if that administrator is still here or not. Paul is shaking her head that they're not <laugh>, but the staff here really care about you as a scholar. You know, they, we, we try to look out for you at every step of the way, way. And I really, I really love that story. Now, obviously at the end of the day, you're here to be a student. And Paula, you participated in the I u g, the integrated undergraduate graduate where you get both an undergrad and a grad degree at the same time. And you did this no less in a STEM field, which is no small feat. Can you tell us about that and what recommendations that you have for students who are interested in pursuing this opportunity?
Paula 00:15:17 Sure. So I'll tell you about my own experience and then I'll tell you if I could go back, what I would do differently, <laugh>. So, um, as you're aware, as an honors student, you have to write an honors thesis, um, by the time you graduate. And I actually really liked that aspect of the honors program because I was interested in research. I wanted to understand a little bit more of what's research like, um, and you know, that, that I was interested in from the very beginning. And so freshman year I was already kind of investigating what are the chemical engineering professors studying at Penn State? Like, what's the research? All of that. And very early on my sophomore year, I actually started to talk, talking to some of the professors, um, and better understanding their research and kind of throwing myself out there, right? And so I started doing undergraduate research my sophomore year, very early on in my sophomore year.
Paula 00:16:18 Um, so by the time I actually hit my senior year, um, my advisor kinda sat me down and was like, you know, you've done enough research for a master's thesis. And I was like, wow, I never even considered that that would be a possibility. So thought about it. And I was like, okay, so if I stay an extra year and really honed down on all the graduate coursework, finish up my research, write up my thesis, defend it, basically in five years, I can graduate with both a bachelor's and a master's in chemical engineering. So I was like, sign me up, let's do it. It was super hard <laugh> because I made that decision so late. Um, and so it was early enough that I could substitute some of my senior classes for graduate coursework that allowed me to do it in five years. But if you do have any interest whatsoever, so number one, you have start your research early like I did.
Paula 00:17:16 But number two, you really need to start looking at your schedule and understanding how you could fit it all in within the five years. Because basically, like my last year was all these super hard crazy classes where I could have spread it out over the course of two years and made it way more manageable. So, so that would be my advice. If you are interested in partaking in the I U G program, I think it's amazing. As an honors call, uh, as an honors student, I think it's a lot easier to partake because you're already writing a thesis. Um, but just start thinking through that and planning early. Don't wait until your fourth year is my advice.
Sean 00:17:56 That is great advice. And I think that speaks to a lot of other opportunities as well, is the earlier you can start planning for anything like internships or for I u d your thesis topic, not a bad idea. And speaking of internships, earlier you mentioned that you did ones at Merck, at Dow, and you had one each summer. And there's kind of a common theme there of pharmaceuticals. Did you always know that you wanted to go into pharmaceuticals, or how did you discover that that was where your professional interests lay?
Paula 00:18:26 Yeah, so, um, to your point, all of my internship experience was in the pharmac industry. Um, I have spent the last 18 years within pharmaceuticals and in various types of roles. Um, and yes, like I've, I've always wanted to do pharmaceuticals that stems for me. And, and I think a lot of people have a similar feel when they're younger, that they wanna do something that's going to help others. And so I went into engineering knowing that I wanted to help people. Um, I for a while considered, you know, maybe I'll become a doctor. That's a great way to help people, but I will readily admit, I faint at the sight of blood. I am terrible. And now with three kids, trust me, when they're hurt, they know to get a dad because I am, I am no help to them. So I knew medicine was not in the cards for me at all.
Paula 00:19:18 Um, but the next step that I could really see that I could still really help in that field was the pharmaceutical field. So I went into chemical engineering already with the thought and the desire to work in pharmaceuticals. I chose chemical engineering over, say, a pharmacy degree, simply because I wanted to have a broader foundation that would allow me to do a lot of different things within pharmaceuticals. Um, but yeah, that, that's how I really discovered, you know, the pharmaceutical field. And for me personally, I, I feel great knowing that every day I'm doing something that's helping patients around the world, um, with, you know, whatever diseases they're fighting.
Sean 00:20:00 You came out of college, you had your master's degree, and you started early in some frontline engineering roles that are very technically oriented, which, if you're looking at the episode description, you'll see that your title now doesn't necessarily reflect the technical side as much, but I want to start at the beginning where our students are likely to be headed in those roles. Tell us about your experience in those frontline roles. What, you know, what you learned, what suggestions you have for students who are looking into similar engineering, technical, tactical roles that they can explore right out of college.
Paula 00:20:37 Yeah, sure. So my very first job out of school, I would say is like the traditional chemical engineering role where I was working in a manufacturing plant. We were basically taking a chemical process from lab scale, scaling it up to what we call a pilot scale, which is kind of like the mid-scale and then to a commercial scale, which is like these large manufacturing plants that you see producing various molecules or, you know, chemical entities. Um, my first job was very specific with active pharmaceutical ingredients. And so, um, I was working for a company that doesn't participate in the discovery of active pharmaceuticals, but rather just in a contract manufacturing of active pharmaceuticals. And so I learned a lot about manufacturing, about especially manufacturing under very strict regulatory conditions, which is, you know, all of what pharmaceutical is. Um, and, and that was a great experience, but I also have, you know, this, the story to tell that when I was doing that job, um, because we were doing contract work for other pharmaceutical companies, really, they were kind of, they were basically our customer.
Paula 00:21:53 And I remember we had worked really hard on scaling up this one process. We got the plant up and running super hard work, and, um, the customer, the pharmaceutical company was still not pleased with the product, and they kept saying that the particle size of the material we were providing was completely off. And so we had to go back to the drawing board and find ways to change the particle size of this material. And as an engineer, I remember thinking, oh my gosh, like, why are they so picky? Like, this is the chemical that you need. I don't understand. Like, what, what is the deal with this whole particle size discussion? Fast forward a few years later, I find myself working not in a manufacturing setting, but rather in a lab setting. And I was working with pharmaceutical formulations, um, with various polymers that we call excipients, which are basically inactive ingredients that go into all types of pharmaceutical products.
Paula 00:22:51 Um, and they, they do a ton of different things. They can coat the products, they can control the release of a drug, they can bind materials. I mean, just so many applications. And one of the very first projects I worked on, I just remember really struggling to make this formulation work, and there was my aha moment, it was the particle size that was throwing everything off. And so if there's anything that I can tell you as a young engineer coming into work, it's really easy to get siloed into the job that you're doing, into the role or, or the manufacturing plant that you work in, all of that. And the more you understand more broadly like what's happening across the business, what's happening across the company, or even what's happening across like that value chain, you know, better understanding why was that particle size so critical would make you a lot better at your current job and make you even better for subsequent jobs because you have that bigger picture view, you know? And I think that was a big learning for me within the first five to six years working that, you know, you get so tied down to doing that one specific job well, and, and then that was this moment of realization like, wow, if I had simply asked more questions three years ago, I would've had just this understanding of how particle size influences formulations, and hence the exact need that that customer had.
Sean 00:24:20 Well, Paul, I think you just teed up my next question perfectly. So we just talked a lot about really technical skills in a STEM role, but what about the soft skills that you need for leadership? How can a STEM major think about ways, either while they're a student or in those early roles to get the soft skills, the communication, the leadership, these things that you need, but there's no manual for developing them? What are your recommendations for students?
Paula 00:24:52 Yeah, so I often get students that tell me that they feel like they're not smart enough to go into a STEM field. Um, and my response back to them is always that, you know, most engineers and scientists that I work with are not Einstein's in any way, shape, or form. Um, but rather they have different assets to them that I think a lot of students have that make 'em really good at doing STEM science engineering, which are things like problem solving, things like having a curiosity, asking questions. Those things are more valuable than really being super extra smart, right? Um, and those are things that you can really hone in on, not just in schoolwork, but even in activities that you do outside of school, right? And so I, I always encourage people to, yes, you should work hard in school and do well, absolutely, but you should take time to find hobbies and find other activities and clubs and organizations to join.
Paula 00:25:57 That's where a lot of those soft skills come from, right? Like communicating and leading a group. All of that is really gonna come from those types of experiences. And furthermore, I think those experiences also further help develop the curiosity and the problem solving and all of those other skills that are so important to be really good at stem, you know, so that would be my suggestion is to not be so focused in school, but really allow your natural curiosity to lead to other paths and organizations and clubs and hobbies. And through all of that, you'll naturally start to really hone in on those other soft skills.
Sean 00:26:39 Speaking of other paths, you've gone from the lab work, the hands-on manufacturing, and now you've progressed to some key leadership roles in the companies that you've been at. You've been in marketing and product management, strategy setting roles. How did you decide to go into that? And also without getting an M B A, I'd love to, that's true. I'd love to hear about your thought process on wanting to move up into those types of roles and doing so without that specific degree.
Paula 00:27:07 Yeah, so, so ironically, I think marketing found me. Um, I was, I had, as you mentioned, I'd worked in manufacturing and lab settings. Um, and then I spent four years in a role that in our company we call tech service, which is basically, I spent half of my time traveling all over the world visiting pharmaceutical companies and better understanding their problems and helping to solve those problems, whether they be formulation dependent or process dependent, whatever it is that they needed, I, I really helped in terms of what our products provided to them. And, uh, it was, I was just coming out of that role and I was thinking about going back into a lab setting, and our marketing director reached out to me and said, Hey, Paula, have you ever considered a job in marketing? And I said, no, absolutely not. I don't even know where marketing is, so I don't know where this conversation is going.
Paula 00:28:07 And, uh, he pointed out to me, he's like, okay, so, so here's the deal. Like, we work in a very technical area, you understand our products really well, you understand our customers really well because you've been solving their problems for them for the past four years. The marketing piece I can teach you. What I need is this technical background that you can bring into our marketing organization. So he was smart. He first put me into a marketing research role, which honestly it's a lot of data analysis and understanding market trends, and that felt like a very natural fit, right? I'm still looking at data spreadsheets, all of that. And then from there, he started moving me into various brand management, product management, strategic marketing types of roles, and teaching a lot of things along the way. And so I always tell people, I think there are different ways that you can learn how to do a job, right?
Paula 00:29:04 So yes, getting a degree is absolutely a way that you can learn how to do a job, but I would, you know, argue that actually doing the job is another way to learn how to do the job, right? And so I personally never felt that need to go back to school to get an M B A because I was getting my M B A experience doing the marketing role, which, you know, I've done these types of roles for the past eight years now, right? And so, so, so that was my choice. I I, you know, I think there are people that find value in getting the M B A and it makes sense for them. I'm not telling people that they shouldn't get an M B A, right? I think it's very different for different people. I had already started a family, I was learning a lot on the job. It just made sense for me personally, to progress and keep learning on the job, taking trainings and courses, you know, throughout the way, but not necessarily stopping everything to get an M B A.
Sean 00:30:02 So as an M B A student myself, I think that is spot on. I think it is valuable for some and for others. You're getting enough on the job where maybe you have really good training opportunities and good managers where you're gonna get that hands-on. So something to think about if you do or don't need to, because it is an investment of time and money. Now, one of the things we talk about in M B A classes is change management. And you've been at Dow, you've been at DuPont, and now you're at I F F and trying to piece together from your resume and your LinkedIn, these companies have been together, they've been separate. You've been through mergers, acquisitions, separations, divorces in the business setting, you're still happily married to Doug. Yes. So just wanna point that out there. So business divorce from these different companies, how do you handle those situations? What's that like? That's something that we don't typically hear the experience of somebody kind of in the, in the middle of the organization. Um, and especially it's not something that you think about when you're just trying to get a job as a student, but something, if you go into the private sector, you're probably going to deal with at some point. So I'd love you to share your experience going through these different types of organizational changes.
Paula 00:31:14 It's been a wild ride, I'm not gonna lie. Um, to your point, uh, Dwin DuPont merged, and then my business unit ended up going with DuPont once they separated. And then after two years with DuPont DuPont sold off our business unit to this other company I f F. And yeah, it's, it's very challenging because it's, it's a lot of changes happening in short periods of time. And it's new management, new systems, new processes you have to learn, new people you have to meet, and it's, and it's just a, a constant state of change. Um, what I would say has helped me personally through all of this is, you know, one of the characteristics that I recognize in myself is that I tend to be a very optimistic person. And I think you have to go into these environments with an optimistic perspective and with the thought pattern that all of this is crazy, but it just presents more opportunities for improvements and changes in the organization that maybe you've been wanting to make for years, right? And so, as crazy as it, as it is to manage all of what's happening on the day-to-day, I always think strategically like, here's an opportunity that we can improve our processes and we can, IM improve our systems and we can improve the way that we're doing business because everything is new and changing. Let's just tackle it and, and do it right. Um, and I think honestly, that's what's carried me through the past few years with all these changes. Just that constant optimism and knowing that things can get a lot better from here.
Sean 00:33:02 If you are enjoying this podcast, then listen up about this great opportunity. Do you know your major but not sure what your career will be? Or are you still on the fence about your major? Even if you know both scholars like you should come to connect 2022 on Saturday, March 26th, 2022 from one to 5:00 PM to meet scholar alumni like the ones you hear on the show and learn about their paths to get where they are today. We are excited that this event will be in person this year. Connect 2022 is open to students in all majors from STEM to business to liberal arts, and those who don't know their major yet, students will participate in three panel sessions of their choosing to hear advice from scholar alumni and ask questions. Are you looking for opportunities to connect with alumni in your field? Connect features sessions between each panel for students to meet with the panelists to top it off free professional headshots for LinkedIn will be taken before the event starts. Be sure to visit shc.psu.edu/connect to learn more and register today. RSVPs are due by March 18th, 2022. Now, back to our conversation on following the gong.
Sean 00:34:13 So we've talked a lot about your work, but just like student leaders who are going in, they're not just students, but they're leading these organizations that we've talked about. You're really involved in things outside of work. And you can't see this because this is an audio podcast, but Paula has this beautiful quilt, I think. Yes,
Paula 00:34:33 Yes. It's a quilt behind
Sean 00:34:34 Her that says stem, and it's kind of a mosaic thing. And I think that really speaks to her passion for this topic. And you're doing a lot in the, both in your workplace, but also in the broader STEM field for particularly women and women from historically excluded or marginalized identities to get into stem. Can you talk about what you're doing and why you're taking on these challenges? Yeah,
Paula 00:34:59 For sure. So I, I consider this my side gig, um, because I am so passionate and I spend so much time doing this, it really started for me when my, when I had children and they started going to school, and some of the schools in our area had an interest in doing more around stem, you know, explaining to kids what STEM really means and so forth. And, um, I started to visit a lot of schools and it's interesting because I would walk into a classroom and I'd get a lot of these looks like, and questions from really young students, elementary age students saying, are you really an engineer? You don't look like an engineer. And I quickly realized that we really needed to change the visibility of what an engineer looks like. And so I really started to expand a lot of the work that I was doing.
Paula 00:35:56 I started to visit more classrooms, I started to work with different organizations, um, in my community. I currently live in Atlanta, different nonprofits. I really wanted to change the stereotype that exists, and I wanted little girls to see themselves as scientists and engineers. And I wanted little boys to also see it and think of it as natural and normal that, you know, a woman or a Latina like myself could take on a role like this. Um, and honestly it started from, from just kind of this, you know, this desire to do that, and it really exploded. Um, so as you mentioned, you know, today I find myself doing really weekly talks, um, with different organizations through Zoom meetings or, you know, pre covid, a lot of, uh, face-to-face type of things. But, um, I think it's really important to put myself out there because I did not have a role model like myself. I had a lot of men in my life that supported me. Um, actually my whole family is made up of engineers, my father, my brothers, my uncles, my grandfather. So I had great examples of engineers in my life, but they were all men. And so I wanted to become that role model that I didn't have growing up, and hence that side gig kind of took off.
Sean 00:37:19 And what's really cool is you've been the recipient of many an award, and I believe there's some kind of artwork installation, if you can briefly tell us about that. Yes, Paul, Paul is shaking her head here. Um, yes. So I would definitely now very much love you to tell us about that.
Paula 00:37:37 Absolutely. Um, and I would say this is probably one of my biggest successes is, um, in 2019, I was named in if then ambassador, uh, by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. What they did is they did a national call out to women in stem. They were looking for role models to serve in, in various ways. Um, I threw my name in the hat, I said, there's no way I'm gonna get this. And I was chosen, which was absolutely thrilling. And so as part of that, there, there's a lot that comes with that, as you mentioned, um, we're, I've become more connected to a lot of organizations, um, you know, a lot of different speaking opportunities, all of that. Um, but then to your point, they decided to do something that is just very cool. And in terms of that visibility component we were talking about, they actually took all of us and did three D scans and, um, they created statues, a lot of all of us.
Paula 00:38:41 And so in, basically there was a research done, I'm trying to remember how long ago this was done that found that in public spaces in the top 10 US cities, there are less than six statues of women in public spaces in the top 10 US cities. And so what they wanted to create is this exhibit showing 120 women. So basically the most female statues gathered in one place that one time, and they would all be women in stem. And these women are incredible. I mean, we have engineers, we have astrophysicists, mathematicians, biologists, you name it, we have it right. And it, it was just breathtaking to see it in real life. It was displayed in Dallas, Texas from May through October of this year. Um, they're currently talking and trying to see if there's a way to display it in another city at this point.
Paula 00:39:38 But it's really impactful to see so many women, um, that are doing such amazing things in STEM and, and just the impact that that can have on, on kids. You know, um, the other thing that's really exciting is being an if then ambassador is there is a morning, a Saturday morning show called Mission Unstoppable on C B S that also follows women in stem. And we are all featured in that as well. So my episode is coming up in January, you can learn a little bit more about what I do in the pharmaceutical field, um, but that's also another incredible opportunity to really be in front of more children and really showing them the wonders of STEM and, and what it means to be a scientist or engineer.
Sean 00:40:20 That's fantastic. So you're really getting out there in a lot of places, both live and in person and, and through the statue. So that is, that is really, really cool. Uh, depending on when this is released and when you're listening to it, check that out. I imagine you could probably, this is not a paid advertisement, I'm sure you probably check it out on Paramount Plus, uh, after it airs. I'm assuming. I don't know this for sure, so please fact check me if I'm wrong. <laugh>. Um, now throughout this, Paula, you've mentioned that you have kids, you have a family. And as we're sitting here, it is, currently, we're in the middle of Hanukkah. Christmas is coming up in a few weeks when we're recording, and I think I see an ELFORD three on the shelf. So how do you balance having a family, being a working professional, taking on this side gig and doing things like this podcast being on a c B S kid show to talk about stem? What strategies do you use to try and balance all of that?
Paula 00:41:16 So I learned really early on to ask for help when I need it. And then I know it's really hard for, for some people to wrap their heads around that they think that they have to do everything themselves. And I've just learned that it just doesn't work that way as one human being. Um, a perfect example I have of that is, even when I first started working as an engineer, I think it was like within like the first couple of months in my job, my manager gave me this really hard problem to solve. He's like, Hey, I need you to calculate this out and figure out, you know, how much you know of this material do we need and how are we gonna make this happen? And I was determined to get this right. And so I spent three days doing calculations out the wazoo, and I was like, okay, I'm gonna get this, I'm gonna get this right.
Paula 00:42:09 And, uh, so three days later I go into his office and I present the work that I did, and I'm like, okay, this is, you know what I'm thinking, blah, blah, blah. And he said, this is really all great. Um, have you met the person who sits right next to you in your office? And I was like, uh, yes. And he's like, do you know that this is his, like, like his specialty? Like this is what he does day in and day out. Uh, just an f y i If you had asked him from the beginning, he could have knocked this out in half an hour for you. And I was like, wow, okay. So the real expectation at work is not that you have to do all of your work by yourself on your own, but it's really learning how to get the work done through collaboration.
Paula 00:42:52 And so I implement that in my life as well, right? So yeah, I have to travel for work, and I'm not afraid to ask for help from the grandparents to help with the kids while I'm gone. Um, you know, and, but you know, the same token, I'm also not hesitant to provide help when needed, right? And so it's a two-way street. Just like I'm not afraid to ask for help. I also don't hesitate in providing help whenever I can, in any way I can, you know, to the people around me. So I've, this is something I learned at Penn State, actually. I've learned how to build a community of support around me, um, which is something, you know, I, I really learned through the Women in Engineering program at Penn State, building a community of support
Sean 00:43:39 That is really sage advice and being able to offer help because every person has value and has something to give back just in the same way that there are things that you might need help with. So I think that is really good. You've already talked about your biggest successes and, and learning moments, so you really teed up something else I wanted to ask about kind of in the wrap up here, which is in terms of asking for help, but specifically in a professional capacity around mentorship, how do you approach mentorship both as a mentor, both in the broad sense of the, the different things we've talked about, but also on a one-to-one level? And also you're still mid-career, you've, you've got a very large trajectory ahead of you. How do you approach being a mentee, you know, a few years into your career?
Paula 00:44:25 Yeah, so mentorship is really, really important. And I wanna talk about mentorship, but I also wanna talk about something that we don't talk about very often, which is sponsorship. Um, so I'll start on the mentorship side, and I think mentors provide great value. Um, because like I mentioned, I didn't have any mentors that look like me necessarily, but I had a lot of people that provided support and guidance throughout my career. So mentors can provide that guidance in a way that maybe others, like your parents and so forth, that they just don't know otherwise, they don't know how to provide that guidance. So that's really important. They can answer questions, they can, um, you know, give you a glimpse of what different types of roles and careers look like. They can suggest ideas of classes, you should take experiences, jobs you should consider, you know, all of that.
Paula 00:45:18 So if you don't have a mentor in your life, I highly encourage you to think about who would be a good mentor for you and who is someone that you look up to and that you can really learn from. You know, for me personally, I have found that, um, I really prefer these organic mentoring type of relationships. And I don't, I can't say that I have any specific mentors that I meet with, you know, on a monthly or quarterly basis or anything like that. But I do have a lot of people that I look up to. And what I do for myself is I create these mini mentoring moments where maybe I go out to coffee with someone or I grab lunch with someone, and I usually have very specific questions of, you know, I'm considering making this career change, or I'm thinking about, you know, doing this for my project.
Paula 00:46:07 What are your thoughts on that? And, and so in that way, i, I create these mentoring relationships that aren't, like, I think sometimes people get scared to become a mentor because they're thinking, oh, this is such a huge time commitment and I have to create these monthly meetings and things like that. And, and that's not it at all. Right? I think if you're willing to put yourself out there, provide guidance and so forth, you're, you're, you automatically make a great mentor, right? And so that's how I kind of manage being a mentee and really, you know, engaging with people that I trust. Now, the other thing that we don't talk a lot about, which I learned kind of the hard way, is sponsorship. And these are the people that are very influential in your organization, and they can make decisions behind closed doors and they can really speak up for you, and they can really be the people that vow for you and your work and your successes, um, in front of other influential people.
Paula 00:47:07 Sponsors are a little harder to identify. Um, but I would, I would say that I have learned to kind of identify these people that are kind of well connected, well thought of within the organization. And I, and I make time to get to know them, um, and I allow them to get to know me as well, right? Um, because sponsors can have a huge influence in your career and the opportunities that come your way. You know, the other thing that I've learned, which kind of ties into the sponsorship discussion is that I think the academic world doesn't fully prepare you for industry in the sense that when you're a student, you learn that by working hard you're gonna get what you need and what you want, right? So if I study really hard, I'm gonna get that a on that test, and then you come out into the workplace and you can sit, continue that pattern of, I'm gonna work really hard and I'm gonna get the next step.
Paula 00:48:08 And it doesn't quite work that way because there's a missing element about really communicating what you want and where you want your career to go. And nobody teaches you this and nobody tells you this, but it's important for you to communicate and communicate it to a mentor, communicate it to your manager, and communicated to these potential sponsors and influential people in your business and let them know, Hey, I have a lot of interest in taking on this, you know, manufacturing role or this regulatory role, or, you know, I really see my career headed this direction, you know, how do you think I could get there? And by being open and communicating your desires and what you really want, that also creates opportunities for you. So that's a really important lesson that I, you know, I, no one ever taught me, but it's become very apparent in corporate America.
Sean 00:49:03 Yeah, you want to position yourself so that when there is an opportunity available and something good, you wanna be that first person that somebody in a position of influence or authority can think, oh, I want Sean for that, or I want Paula for that because they're a perfect fit. And it sounds like a good example of that is that, uh, marketing director who kind of pulled you from the technical side into the marketing side. Yeah,
Paula 00:49:30 Absolutely. Absolutely. He's been a huge influence in my life. Absolutely. So
Sean 00:49:35 Always, you know, working hard, like you said, sets you up for success, and, but it's also about communicating, you know, the hard work demonstrates that you can do it. Um, and I think also something I thought of real quick, Paula, is that, you know, there's this, you always wanna move up. And I think there's a lot of folks who are very content to be in a frontline role, and those roles are needed. Organizations tend to be kind of like triangular shaped, and there's fewer roles at the top. Not everybody has to move up to be happy and to be successful. So I think knowing what you want and where you're, do you want to lead or do you want to be hands-on engineer for your entire career and you opted for leadership, and others may want to be in the lab for their whole life, and that's where they find joy. So
Paula 00:50:16 That's absolutely true. And especially as kinda your life takes on and, and their potential children and maybe hobbies, activities, other things that come into your life. Absolutely. That's something that needs to be considered, right? Like what really brings you joy, because the definition of success is very different for everyone. And you shouldn't follow, you know, what you think others define as success. You really need to find your own definition of success and what makes you happy and follow that, that path. Absolutely.
Sean 00:50:49 I think it's a good summary. I think a mentor can help you figure out what that is, and a sponsor can help make it a reality. Yeah.
Paula 00:50:55 Yeah. It's a really good way to think of it. Yeah.
Sean 00:50:58 So now for the fun questions here at the end, is there anybody that you want to give a shout out to from your days as a scholar?
Paula 00:51:05 Oh my gosh. There were so many amazing people that I, that I met, um, you know, a lot of, I made a lot of great friends, um, a lot of great people in the office, like you said, I always loved going into the office, such a, a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. Um, you know, the one shout out I really wanna throw out there is to my advisor, uh, Dr. Wayne Curtis, he's still a chemical engineering professor at Penn State. Um, he was, like I said, highly influential. Um, he was, you know, I really consider him the first person who said yes to me and gave me an opportunity, honestly, in an, in a time in my life that I didn't think I necessarily belonged in a lab or I was ready to be in a lab. But he opened up that opportunity to me, and, and so I consider him my first yes. And, um, for that I'm, I'm forever grateful to, to everything he did.
Sean 00:52:00 Again, speaking to the power of being a sponsor and finding one great, great shout out there. Are there any pieces of advice that you really wanted to share that maybe have not come up organically through the previous questions in our chat here today? Yeah,
Paula 00:52:17 There, there are a couple of things that I like to throw out there. And so, you know, imposter syndrome is a very real thing, especially when you're going into like a STEM major and especially when you don't see other people that look like you, right? A lot of these underrepresented students that I've talked about that I'm very passionate about encouraging, um, to go into stem, it, it can be really hard, but, you know, someone said this to me once, and I, I think it's so true. Don't compare your chapter one to someone else's. Chapter 10. Everyone has had failures, everyone has had challenges. And it's really easy to see someone even like myself, 18 years out in career, like, this is where I'm at. And when you're brand new, you can look at that and find it very intimidating, but it's really, really unfair to compare yourself to someone who has had many years of experience because we've all had our ups and downs.
Paula 00:53:14 And so don't allow that to really pull you away from the things that you wanna do. Embrace who you are, embrace your uniqueness, bring your whole self to everything that you do, and, and fight off that imposter syndrome. The other thing I'd like to point out is that, you know, we talked a lot about the outreach work that I do, and I find it interesting that a lot of people don't see themselves as role models. And no matter what age you are, who you are, what you do, I want you to look at yourself in the mirror and recognize that you are a mentor today. You are a role model today. There are people that are looking up to you, younger students, siblings, neighborhood kids, whatever, are people that look up to you. And so you're really never too young to start helping a fellow colleague or a classmate, a younger student. You're never, ever too young to be that role model. So always remember that you have a superpower to pass that on to someone else, no matter what your age.
Sean 00:54:25 That is really powerful, especially even if you're a fourth year student listening, you can have a huge impact on a first or second year scholar. Absolutely. So I think that is wonderful words of wisdom. If a student wanted to get even more wisdom from you, Paula, and connect after listening to this episode, how can they connect with you?
Paula 00:54:44 Okay, so I am on LinkedIn. I'm the only Paula Garcia Todd you're gonna find on LinkedIn. That's a unique name. So please feel free to connect with me if I see you're at Penn Stater, you're automatic family, so please reach out and connect. Um, I'd love to connect with, with anyone with questions. I am, I'm happy and open to do that. Um, I'm also on Twitter and Instagram, you can find me at Watch Me Stem. Um, not as you know, I'm not as active on Twitter as I am on Instagram, and a lot of my content is very much based on the outreach work that, that we talked about and, and getting, you know, more, more girls to these to see themselves as scientists, as well as, you know, Latin students, black students. And so, um, I'd love to connect with you there as well.
Sean 00:55:32 And now for the hardest hitting question of the day, if you're a regular listener, you know what I'm about to ask, if you were a flavor of Burke Creamery ice cream, which would you be? And most importantly, as a scholar alumna, why that flavor?
Paula 00:55:46 Yeah, so I like to joke, it's somewhat of a joke, it's almost real, but <laugh>, I like to joke that I chose chemical engineering because it's the engineering building closest to the creamery, and it still is today, even though the creamier has changed locations. So yes, in the mornings when students were going in there to get their bagels and cream cheese, I was always going in there to get my ice cream, and then I'd head to my first class of the day. So yes, I am an ice cream fanatic, and I think I've had close to every flavor that the creamery offers. With that in mind, my very favorite flavor is happy. Happy joy. Joy, if you haven't had it, it's amazing. Delightful. Coconut ice cream. Chocolate almond crunch. It's the best. And I would say I would wanna be a happy, happy, joy. Joy, because as we discussed, I am a very optimistic person. I love to spread joy. Joy. Um, I am the office prankster. Yes. Have I ever filled somebody's office with 200 balloons to celebrate their birthday? Yes. Have I filled those balloons with confetti so as they pop the balloons to clean up the mess, they actually made a bigger mess. Yes. So I think I am happy. Happy joy. Joy in all sense of the name,
Sean 00:57:08 And I thought I had a rough cleanup job when some of my roommates in college filled my apartment room with seemingly every copy of the daily collegiate that had been printed for two weeks. Kudos to you on the confetti there. I think that's a great reason to pick that flavor. Paula, you're doing great things out in the world. Thank you so much for taking some time to join us here today on following the Gong and sharing all of your wisdom about STEM and every other witch thing that we've talked about today. Thank you so much.
Paula 00:57:39 Thank you. Thanks for having me.
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