Local Chief Science Officer grateful for opportunity to visit Dow Center

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the latest in a series of articles written by local Chief Science Officers, students who are elected by their peers and who “amplify student voice by bringing their peers and community leaders together to ignite new opportunities in STEM and innovation.”

Ava Nelson is a senior at HH Dow High School and a Chief Science Officer.

On March 14, the Chief Science Officers of the Great Lakes Bay Region attended the spring cabinet meeting, which is the final cabinet meeting for 12th graders like myself. CSOs from local high schools and middle schools, along with their advisors, converged on the Global Dow Center in Midland for a day of STEM-focused learning, leadership development, and networking.


The day began with a welcome from Mary Draves, Dow’s Chief Sustainability Officer. Ms. Draves highlighted two important values ​​of the company, sustainability and inclusion, and shared examples of Dow’s commitment in these areas. It was fascinating to learn how Dow uses wetlands as a natural purification process for wastewater. Not only is this process sustainable, but it is also a low-cost option for water purification.

Following the opening session, CSOs divided into groups to make the next part of the session more personalized. Some stayed in the main meeting room to learn more about plastic use and sustainability. The group I joined fully geared up with safety goggles, gloves, and hard hats and toured the Chloride Recovery Plant.

This was an amazing experience to not only see inside a Dow facility, but also to learn about the processes and related careers. Listening to the chemical engineers describe their work was interesting and informative, given that this career is sometimes misunderstood. My group was fortunate that we were able to keep the goggles and gloves, which I know I will definitely use next year in my college science lab courses.

The CSOs and advisors came together again before lunch to learn about diversity, equity and inclusion. Tiffany Torain, Dow inclusion, diversity and equity relationship manager, offered a helpful way of remembering the key components of an inclusive environment by using the acronym GUMBO.

“G” is for generosity, “U” is for understanding others (empathy), “M” is for making a new connection, “B” is for belonging, and “O” is for originality. Ms. Torain challenged each of us to consider our role in making our school, community and the world a more inclusive place. Playing off of that theme, Ms. Torain gave CSOs beads and we all danced around the room celebrating the importance of inclusion. Serving on the CSO International Equity for Everyone Committee, I plan to share this helpful acronym with other CSOs from around the world during our next virtual meeting.

Following the amazing presentation, a networking lunch was next on the agenda and CSOs were joined by a variety of Dow STEM professionals. Networking lunches are a great opportunity for CSOs to practice their communication skills and gain additional knowledge about STEM careers.

I had the pleasure and good fortune of eating lunch with Mary Draves, which was particularly special given my desire to study environmental science and sustainability in college next year. We talked about career options within the field of environmental science and sustainability and college options. Karen S. Carter, chief inclusion officer, joined our table as we engaged in an important discussion about the importance of women in STEM careers and how our generation needs to continue paving the way for women in STEM.

The cabinet meeting ended with our typical work session. This is a dedicated time for CSOs to progress with their action plans, consult with advisors and other CSOs on projects, continue networking with the STEM professionals, or just catch up with fellow CSOs and discuss the actions they are taking to advance STEM learning in their schools.

I used this time to meet with other CSOs from Midland Public Schools as several of us are collaborating on an action plan to host another Flight Night event in the spring, this time for Plymouth Elementary. This precious collaboration time allowed the team to get on the same page with a project status update, share ideas, and plan the next team meeting with a group from Barstow Airport.

In all, this cabinet meeting was long awaited and anticipated, as we had not been able to visit Dow for an extended time period because of COVID. I could not have asked for a better final cabinet meeting for my CSO experience. Growing up in Midland, I have always wanted to visit a Dow facility behind the fence line and learn more about their operations, and I was finally able to do that as a CSO. As my time with CSO comes to a close, I reflect on how I have grown as a learner, leader, and citizen through my CSO experiences.

While many of my fellow students engaged in sports or student council or a specific school club as a way to grow as a person and gain leadership skills, I chose the path of CSO even though it was new to our region and an experience unknown to many . I have deep gratitude for this opportunity and for all of the adults who realized my potential, particularly Adrianne Cole, our CSO cabinet coordinator.

CSO is the kind of experience where what you gain is directly related to how much you give. I fully immersed myself and took advantage of every opportunity that came my way, including Regional Leadership Council, serving as the Michigan representative for Town Hall meetings, serving as co-president of the Equity For Everyone Committee, creating a community-based event through action planning, mentoring new CSOs, and networking with STEM professionals as a way to clarify my career goal.

I feel prepared for my next step after high school, and I attribute a big part of that to my CSO experience.

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