Oles at 3M Company

One of the most familiar brands in the world, 3M is a science-based company committed to developing innovative products for everyday life. It’s a perfect fit for Oles with broad, liberal arts backgrounds.


Ellen Hawley ’13
Regulatory Affairs Analyst 3M Company (Pace Analytical Services, Inc.)

Through informational interviews and conversations with alumni, I learned that it would be my education as a whole that would be of interest to employers, not necessarily a specific major. Knowing this allowed me to choose chemistry as a major. I enjoyed solving the problems, but I wasn’t drawn to the lab the way many science-oriented students are at St. Olaf.

One of St. Olaf’s strengths is the range of things you can do to get practical experiences that complement your academic work. Varsity sports, leadership in student organizations, on-campus jobs, off-campus internships, and study abroad are all St. Olaf experiences that I took advantage of to develop practical skills.

I started at 3M in a cohort of six analysts, most of whom are science graduates from larger schools. We’re all well-prepared for the technical aspects of analyzing chemical compounds. What I think my St. Olaf education offered – aside from a great network of people to help with the kind of referral that led me to this job – is a well-rounded experience that helps me see the context in which we’re doing our analyses. In the end, we’re supporting a business with a global reach. To be able to see the connections between the immediate task and the bigger-picture business is essential. A company like this offers all kinds of career paths that lead in many directions.

Robin Torgerson ’78
Vice President, U.S. Sales Excellence, 3M Company

As a St. Olaf student, I planned to teach French. One of my favorite memories of St. Olaf was a study abroad program in Paris. The professor gave us a map and a Metro card, and told us to explore the city and take good notes. We met for breakfast twice a week to report on what we were learning. It was a fabulous immersion.

Back on campus, I took a marketing course to fill in my electives. The course was project-based, and involved preparing a business plan for a local firm. I was hooked. I’ve always been an independent learner, and the experience of working with a business owner demonstrated how valuable my liberal arts curiosity could be.

Over the years, I’ve found that a career is not a ladder, it’s an amusement park ride. Lateral moves let me try new things and learn new skills. In almost every situation, I’ve drawn on the critical thinking skills I learned at St. Olaf. It’s the ability to gather information, listen to other perspectives,, synthesize what you’ve learned, and make a decision. In the business world, there are very few black and white choices: almost everything is a choice between close shades of gray.

Sales is actually a very liberal arts experience. To be successful, you have to think about how to grow the business in healthy and sustainable ways, understand your customers, and solve their problems. There is a quantitative side to measuring success, but if you take care of the people issues, the numbers will usually follow.

My French has proven quite useful in international assignments and when working with French-speaking colleagues visiting the United States. Language skills don’t necessarily make you a good communicator, but can help you better understand what others mean. Being able to reach out in others’ languages helps build relationships.

Matt Hipple ’13
Regulatory Analyst, 3M Company (Aerotek, Inc)

I chose St. Olaf because I was interested in science and thought I would be pre-med. I wanted a small school where I would be able to work closely with my professors. With the hours you spend in class and in labs, that certainly proved to be the case.

My chemistry major was a reflection of my curiosity about the practical questions science can answer. Pursuing a science degree at a liberal arts college like St. Olaf had the benefit of also offering me the chance to develop the other skills I use every day. You can’t overestimate how useful it is to be able to talk to people with different backgrounds and perspectives, and to work collaboratively.

My job is as much about research and writing as it is about chemistry. I am responsible for creating material safety data sheets and product labels that meet the regulatory requirements of the countries in which our products are sold. We conduct health and environmental reviews to specify safe-handling procedures. These reviews require researching scientific literature and communication with scientific specialists to be sure our product information is accurate and meets our local needs.

Working for Aerotek as a contingent worker assigned to 3M, is a common career starting point. I landed this job through a connection to a St. Olaf alum who came to campus to recruit. Her presentation opened the door, and it’s been a great way to use my science background with a great company.