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About the Event

Dr. Cordell Hardy is a chemical engineer who leads the global R&D organization supporting 3M's Body Protection Solutions business in their Personal Safety Division. Product lines he works with include Scotchlite(TM) Reflective Material, Fall Protection, and Limited Use Garments ("Coveralls"). We asked him a few questions about himself and his STEM career to get to know him and his work a bit better before his live event.

What are your favorite hobbies or activities you do for fun?
I try to exercise a few times per week, and enjoy coaching kids’ sports like basketball and soccer. 

Do you play any musical instruments?
I wish I did!

Do you play any sports or do any athletic activities?
Basketball & soccer, but usually with my kids and their friends.

What is your favorite non-science book, magazine, or blog?
Aside from science, I do some business-related reading which is still work-related. Larry Keeley’s “The 10 Types of Innovation,” Clayton Christiansen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” and “The Innovator’s DNA” are some good ones. I enjoy math and science a lot, and have a long list of things in this area I would try to explore if there was time...

What’s the most frequently played song on your music player?
Esperanza Spalding is probably the only popular artist many would know of...besides that mostly I listen to streaming by genre: worship and hip-hop are perennial faves.

How do you describe yourself?
Passionate, analytical, eager to serve.

Who do you look up to and admire?
Aside from my mom and other members of my family, there have been many colleagues at work that I look up to.

Highest degree attained
Ph.D., Chemical Engineering

Schools attended
Florida A&M University, University of Minnesota

Favorite classes/coursework in elementary school, middle school, high school, college
Chemistry & Math

What educational accomplishments are you most proud of?
Finishing my doctoral degree was very satisfying.

What kinds of challenges did you overcome during your education?
Battled distraction and worry about how I would do compared with other smart students from around the world.

3M Company

Official title
Global R&D Manager, Body Protection Solutions

“Layman’s” title:
Lab Manager, Chemical Engineer

Years in this organization/position

What does your organization do?
We provide products to help people stay safe while they work, including personal respirators, helmets, body harnesses & other equipment.

What is your role in the organization?
I manage a group of researchers developing next-generation protective equipment.

Describe your work environment
We are in a lab space with attached offices.

What tools and/or techniques do you use in your job?
As a technical manager, I work with experts in a range of science and engineering disciplines. I have to communicate effectively with them as well as with my management team. One of the most important parts of my job is estimating and forecasting – taking the information we have in hand today, and making a reasonably accurate prediction about what will happen in the future. 

Describe a typical day in your job
Very often I am in meetings, either with members of my group or with the business team. During breaks I handle e-mail, and work on reports/presentations as needed.

Describe an atypical (but notable) day in your job
This happened recently, as 3M purchased a large company that worked in the same area as one of my business units. We are working through the outcomes even as we speak!

How is the work you do important to society?
We have the great privilege of taking the world’s largest collection of technologies and using them to make people safer at work all around the world. From avoiding fall injuries and lung damage to protecting eyes, ears, skin, hands and feet, we do not have to look far to see the benefit of work we do.

What accomplishments are you most proud of in your current role?
Some of the new products we are developing are pretty exciting!

What projects or goals are you currently pursuing?
One of the key themes we are exploring is how we can formulate products more quickly, while controlling the risk of mistakes. 

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
Balancing short- and long-term interests with limited resources.

What is the most exciting, most amazing, or scariest thing that has happened to you during your work?
I remember my very first “AHA!!!” where I figured out how to solve a critical technical problem. Since then, though, many others relating to my team and their successes.

What would a teenager find interesting about what you do?
The computer modeling (CAD) both of mechanical and chemical systems is pretty cool!

What’s the coolest part of your job?
Seeing the fruit of our work impacting society through millions of lives touched, even if I do not know them personally.

What are some of the perks of your job?
We get to meet very smart, nice, hardworking people all over the world.

What are the downsides of your job?
Sometimes the hours can be long – there are often days when my tasks are not done even though I am tired and ready to go to sleep.

If asked to “sell” this career to someone, what would you say to convince them to pursue it?
Quite simply, this is one of the ways to fulfil the potential of your life and contribute to society. There are lots of ways to make enough money to provide basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter for one’s family. Beyond that, it is important during our brief lifetimes to do something meaningful, hopefully to leave the world and those you’ve touched better off. 

What’s something that most people don’t know about your job/work?
Probably how much fun it is, even on some of the bad days.

What are the biggest misconceptions people have about your job/work?
That engineering is only for “smart” people, or that engineering is “hard.” Yes, it does require effort, and not everyone is equally good at everything, but I think people over-emphasize how challenging technical jobs and training can be and under-emphasize the fun and enjoyment of it over a lifetime.

What personal traits make you well suited for the work that you do?
I am fairly analytical, task-oriented, and for lack of a better way to put it, a little selfish. I take unsolved problems personally and feel compelled to “fix” them. 

What career-related awards or other forms of recognition have you received?
Hmmm...not much career-related besides increasing responsibility at work over time, but I did receive a number of honors/scholarships in school.

Best job you’ve ever had and why
The one I’m in now, ‘cause it’s the one I’m doing now! There is opportunity with every job to grow and I tend not to put past positions on a pedestal.

Worst job you’ve ever had and why
Wouldn’t call it the “worst” job but I did have a position where we made a significant investment that did not pan out...not fun.

Biggest career “break” or notable moment
Moving into the safety business for 3M – making a living doing science, all while helping to keep people safe! A great opportunity.

Proudest career accomplishment
There have been several, but as a group the opportunities I’ve had to help my employees to advance in their careers through promotions or new positions, that’s rewarding.

What were you like as a kid?
Talked a lot, not the best athlete but liked sports, and was not allowed to watch much TV. I believe keeping digital entertainment exposure to a minimum while I was young has directly contributed to my creativity, problem-solving capability, and career success.

What were your favorite books/shows/movies when you were a kid?
I played chess often, and read teaching books about it...we had to read classics for school like Tale of Two Cities, Othello, Lord of the Flies, etc., but for fun I actually built model cars and did crafts.

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up at age 12? At age 15? At age 18?
Thought I would be a lawyer when I was young, probably until 10th grade when I really started to feel a passion around science.

When did you know you wanted to pursue your current career, and what drove you towards it?
Late in high school, I was sure.

Who inspired you on this path?
Several people – high school principal, my mom, my sister – who is very, very smart, and early mentors at 3M.

What did you believe about this career before entering into it that proved to be different once you were in?
Probably more time in meetings than I knew!

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what other career(s) might you have pursued?
Maybe I would have tried my hand at teaching.

Why did you agree to become a STEM Role Model?
It is a great privilege to help others in a meaningful way.

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your career?
Spend some time introspecting...why do you want to do this? Is what you are doing now helping you towards your goal, or not?

What advice would you give students in general?
Listen to advice from experienced people. Applying yourself with discipline is bound to pay off well.

What are some interesting places you’ve traveled?
The world is so amazing! I’ve had a chance to go to Asia, Europe, and throughout North America, but Africa and South America are still on my to-do list!