#ThankYourMentor Spotlight: Q&A with Dr. Simon Shannon of 3M

Simon Shannon, Ph.D., 3M
December 13th, 2017
Posted In: Campaigns, Corporate Engagement, Mentoring Stories


As part of MENTOR’s #ThankYourMentor campaign, many people are taking the time to thank mentors who were there at critical moments in their lives. On our blog, we are featuring poignant stories from mentors and mentees who know the impact of mentoring first-hand. This story comes from Dr. Simon Shannon who strongly believes in the power of mentoring.

Q: What was your support system at home like when you were growing up?

A: My mother had my twin sister and me at a pretty young age, and my father was unable to be around during most of my pre-teen years. I spent a good portion of my childhood living with my grandmother. She was our family’s rock – not only did she ensure that we were always physically provided for, but she also made sure we grew up with the right values and emphasized the importance of education.

My uncle John played a significant part in preparing me for college. He had a successful career and his sons were good students who went to one of the top private schools in Jacksonville, Florida. Growing up, I spent quite a bit of time with my uncle and his sons. My uncle eventually convinced my mother to allow me go to the Bolles School, the same school his sons attended, which wasn’t cheap. However, I believe my mother understood the value that a Bolles’ education would bring. I switched to the private school for my second half of high school, and I went from being a top 5 student at my old school to a much more academically rigorous institution. My first year was extremely difficult. I was a good wrestler but now had much tougher competition. I was doing well in my math and science classes but struggling in others. Throughout my time there, my uncle was hugely supportive of me. He transported me around to my wrestling matches, and pushed me to send my college applications in on time. He treated me like his own son, and he showed me that extra support is really important and can make a big difference in a young person’s life. Without my uncle, I sincerely doubt that I would have ended up at the University of Minnesota.

Q: How did you go from starting at University to earning a Ph.D. in organic chemistry?

Dr. Nancy Carpenter

A: Believe it or not, I nearly failed organic chemistry in college. That class almost broke me.  However, my professor, Dr. Nancy Carpenter, appointed me to be the head Teaching Assistant which meant taking responsibility for the lab we used. I wasn’t performing well as a student, but she saw something greater in me that I couldn’t see in myself at that point. She needed someone who could guide and direct others, and I’ve always had great rapport with my peers. I think that made me a good fit for the job despite the fact that I was struggling in the class academically. The new role forced me to take ownership of the work that I was doing. That added responsibility sparked my interest in the subject, and that position set me up to obtain my first internship. I presented the research I did as an intern to the class and kept getting more and more opportunities within chemistry. It all started with Dr. Carpenter putting her trust in me and deciding to give me a little extra responsibility.

Q: What is your role at 3M and how you did you end up in this type of work?

A: Coming out of my Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota, I met some recruiters from 3M who helped me land my entry level position. I came on board as a research scientist in our corporate laboratories helping develop new technologies to be used in our products. I really enjoyed it because had an academic feel even though I was in a busy corporate environment. Since then I’ve worked in several 3M business groups and now I’m a “Lean Six Sigma Black Belt” – which means I kick butt. All joking aside, as a Black Belt, my job is to find ways to make 3M business processes more efficient.

Q: How does 3M provide the space for its employees to give back to their community?

A: 3M provides employees with many opportunities to spend time doing things that aren’t directly related to their job. I have mentored youth in schools and carried out science experiments in front of kids to promote STEM in schools near our offices. I’ve been able to do many of those volunteer activities during work hours. I’ve supported local community centers in beautification projects through our United Way campaign. I’ve also spent two years chairing the African American Network at 3M, a role that gives me the opportunity to develop and advance people of color in the company and engage in community outreach. No matter what my job has been here, 3M has always been a place where I could find ways to give back.

Q: You’ve mentioned a few people who supported you from your early childhood through today. If you had all of these different mentors sitting with you in one room, what would you say to them today?

A: I would keep it really simple and say, “I am what I am because you are who you are, and you did what you did for me. Thank you so much for investing your time in me.”

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