Guest Blog: Catharine Shay, Paying it Forward by Mentoring

January 25, 2017

What first sparked your interest in STEM as a career path?
Development opportunities, available experiences, and options. 

Job satisfaction has always been important to me, so when looking at career paths, I wanted to ensure that I had opportunities to continually learn and develop new skills, access to a broad range of experiences and the ability to change jobs with ease as my interests changed over the years.

When I entered college, there were very few women in engineering fields, I saw this both as a challenge and as an opportunity to pave the way for others. Engineering was a way that I could utilize my love for math to develop new technologies that address both local and global challenges. 

How did you get involved in STEM mentoring?

I did not have many STEM role models available to me as a child, during college I sought them out.  My very first mentor proved invaluable; she encouraged me to not only develop myself but also sparked my interest in developing others. This grew into a passion for me, and today I mentor students interested in pursuing STEM careers, coach mentors of students and advocate for my community through board leadership and business partnerships. 

I am very fortunate to have an opportunity to work with Saint Paul Public School students through 3M STEP (Science Training Encouragement Program).  As chair of this program, I help students see how the science principles learned in the classroom are applied to create transformative products and technologies.  Through mentoring, classroom instruction and summer employment in a 3M laboratory, STEP students increase their job skills, gain insight into scientific careers, and enhance their personal development.  Paying it forward and giving back on behalf of those who spent, and continue to spend, their time mentoring me has been a big driver, and I encourage others to do the same. Building our communities to be successful in the future is important to me. STEM skills are highly transferrable and in demand – creating not only valuable but tangible opportunities for the students of today.


How do you leverage your experience as a mentor in your professional life?

Mentoring provides reflection and perspective and has enabled me to be a better leader. It has enhanced my problem solving skills, sharpened my critical thinking abilities, reinforced the value of listening and being mindful in my daily interactions and taught me to communicate and coach more effectively.

Much of the advice that I provide is relevant in my own life.  One common example:  I often encourage mentees to not be so hard on themselves, to be more kind to themselves – this is also a challenge for me every day.  Learning to manage expectations, of yourself and others, can be an asset to you in your career and personal life.

My love of learning also enables me to leverage my experience. The perspective that mentees can provide enables me to stay relevant and seek appropriate feedback. Once a good rapport is established, candid dialogue can occur – providing development to both the mentee and mentor.  For example, communication styles. With the feedback from my mentees, I have been able to successfully coach mentors through differing communication styles across generations.


What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue STEM as a career path?

Seek out a mentor – or several!

What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue mentoring?

The same. Seek out a mentor if you do not already have one yourself! 

You also need to be prepared. It is important that you are ready to be present in the relationship, actively listen, and invest yourself in your mentee’s success. You will be providing critical insights and maneuvering unwritten rules with your mentee as they navigate the unknown. Remember:  Mentoring is not about teaching, it is about understanding and offering guidance.

I find that good mentors have long standing mentors themselves – they value the relationship and have experienced the rewards. Mentoring relationships can span a lifetime and bring growth to all involved, and I believe everyone can benefit from a mentor in their life.

Catharine Shay is a Global Operations Manager for 3M Business Transformation and a community role model and advocate for STEM education.

January is National Mentoring Month for more information on the month’s activities and mentoring opportunities visit,