Paula Garcia Todd

she/her/hers

Where you can find her:

Education:

  • Undergrad: Penn State, Chemical engineering, 2003
  • Graduate: Penn State, M.S. Chemical engineering, 2003

Current Job Title: Global Strategic Marketing manager

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?

I grew up in a family of engineers.  My dad, brothers, uncles and grandfather were all engineers – mining, mechanical, electrical, chemical – you name it!  I remember my dad drawing machines on the back of paper napkins at dinner as he worked through a problem that still rattled in his brain from his work day. As a young child, I didn’t know all the details involved in being an engineer, but I had a very clear idea that engineers solved problems and I knew I could make a difference as an engineer.  Since high school, I knew I wanted to help sick people, so pharmaceuticals was the right path for me – and continues to be, as I’ve spent 16 years in this industry. I chose chemical engineering because I knew it would give me a broad education that would allow me work within pharmaceuticals – but potentially move into other fields, if I decided later on that my interests were no longer in that field.

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.

My family of engineers has inspired me.  My dad has created awesome tools for woodworking, some which may be sitting in your garage or school today.  My oldest brother is an electrical engineer – and every time I step on a plane, I know he works on those panels that pilots use to control the aircraft.  My other brother is a chemical engineer – and he’s helped progress so many fields, from dentistry to sustainable paper products. But you know who else? My kids!!  They inspire me with the questions they ask and the innovative (yet sometimes impossible) ideas they come up with. They inspire me to always stay curious!  

I have also found strong female colleagues and business leaders in my business to serve as mentors.  They’ve been wonderful, encouraging, and inspiring. Now that I’ve been working for over 15 years, I also look for younger female employees to serve as mentors, too.  They help me stay connected with what my younger colleagues care about, what new technology I should learn about, what new music or apps I should consider…. It’s easy to think that you can only be a mentor if you have tons of experience – but even as a student or a younger employee, you can serve as a mentor to others.

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?

Everyone has moments of doubt – I think my first one hit during my sophomore year in college, when classes stopped feeling so easy, and I had to start studying harder.  That was overcome by finding good study groups, where we could learn from each other and ask each other for help – and realizing that, because something feels hard, it doesn’t mean you weren’t meant to do it.  

My second major moment of doubt came during my last year in college – where I had decided to graduate with a Bachelors and Masters simultaneously in 5 years.  Taking masters classes, finishing the research I had started my sophomore year, and writing my full thesis in a year’s time was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  But I got through it, with a lot of chocolate, and keeping my goal in mind, that I really wanted that masters degree to help me be more successful in the pharmaceutical field.  I’ve learned so much from these moments, and even though I’ve been in industry for 16 years, I still experience moments of doubt, both personally (am I making the right choice for my kids?) and professionally (what should be my next role / job?) – the key is to keep believing in yourself and learning from your choices.

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.

My current job is in marketing.  As an engineer, I thought marketing was equivalent to advertising.  When a manager of mine recruited me into marketing, I quickly learned how wrong that thought was!  I found my technical background to be extremely valuable in helping to create new innovations for the pharmaceutical field.  That’s right, I still work on technical innovations but through a slightly different perspective to ensure business success. I get to spend time talking to pharmaceutical customers around the world to understand their formulation challenges and working with my technical colleagues made up of chemists and engineers to develop relevant solutions for these problems.  My past experience working in plants and labs is extremely helpful in ensuring the solutions we seek will actually be feasible. 

The decision to move into the business side of things and step into marketing was extremely challenging.  I had never taken any business classes, I wasn’t sure what I was doing in the beginning. But the key to being successful, especially in STEM – an area that is always evolving and changing – is that you have to be a constant learner.  So I took this challenge as an opportunity to learn something new. And that’s why folks with STEM backgrounds are wanted in various industries and various types of jobs – because we know how to keep progressing and learning, we know how to problem solve – these skills are invaluable everywhere.  I have engineering friends who went on to medical school, law school, consulting, investment banking – starting off with technical STEM background will allow you to morph and change directions throughout your career if you want, while still contributing towards STEM-related fields.

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.

My childhood experience drives my passion to provide STEM exposure to all kids, especially underrepresented populations, because I prominently sit in that bubble as a female, Latina engineer.  I want kids to understand what engineers do, how science is all around them, and all the places where STEM touches their lives. I’ve been doing outreach work in getting more students interested in STEM for years.  As a member of an advisory board for the Penn State College of Engineering over the last 10 years, I have helped develop programs to help recruit and retain more under-represented students in engineering. Addressing these issues at the university level led me to seek better understanding of the pipeline, from high school all the way down to elementary school, where I created more programs to help teachers without STEM backgrounds help convey STEM concepts and careers to children.  I created STEM holiday celebrations (i.e. World Space Week, National Chemistry Week, National Engineers Week) including trivia, videos, and demonstrations to help kids understand the everyday impact of STEM. I connected professionals to teachers, providing more real-life context to STEM topics in the classroom. Disney engineers explained how they consider physics in designing roller coasters. Classrooms tasted the chemical journey of converting bitter cocoa beans into delicious chocolate bars.  With all I implemented, I was invited to the STEM Board for our school county, brainstorming ways to help 117 schools and 110,000 students in our area achieve their STEM goals. I have also been tasked to develop a K-12 STEM Outreach strategy for my company, DuPont, to significantly contribute towards teaching kids about careers in STEM.  

Is there some advice you could share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.

In engineering school, there’s a great deal of teamwork that happens.  Lots of projects with groups of classmates whom you usually don’t get to pick.  Sometimes things go smoothly, everyone meshes well, and the tasks get accomplished without issues.  But sometimes, you clash with someone’s personality, you disagree on how to run the project, and you run into challenges getting the project done on time.  This is just like real life – you won’t always get to pick whom you work with, but you learn how to overcome challenges and succeed together. This applies to projects at work, within clubs and organizations, in your community – everywhere!  Successful science involves a great deal of interaction with others – learn from your past experiences to work with multiple personalities.

Also, when I’m having a challenging day, I stay motivated by keeping the big picture in mind.  Every one experiences setbacks, it’s important to learn from those mistakes to help you keep moving forward.  Focusing on the purpose of your work, how you are helping people, is the best way to stay motivated and keep pushing through a problem.  

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