Mary Carlson wasn’t sure she was in the right place.
On her first day at Mizzou in 1974, the freshman Chemical Engineering major walked to her classroom and realized she was the only woman in it.
“There were 60 Chemical Engineering majors in my class, and six of us were women. Four of us went all the way through,” Carlson said.
Not only did Carlson make it through, earning her bachelor’s degree in 1978, but she went on to a long and successful career, the majority of which she spent with the 3M Company, before retiring as the manufacturing director of the 3M Communication Markets Division in Austin, Texas last fall.
Carlson wanted to help future generations of students like her, establishing a scholarship for MU undergraduate chemical engineering students, with a focus on women and underrepresented minorities, and she contributed more to the scholarship as part of Mizzou Giving Day this year.
“One of the variables that prevents some women from getting into engineering is they need help financially,” she said.
Carlson always had an affinity for math and science in school, but it wasn’t until her high school chemistry teacher turned her on to the possibilities of engineering that she decided to go that route. And she decided on Mizzou because of the additional options afforded if she didn’t take to engineering in the way she thought she would.
But take to it she did, graduating in four years and starting her career at Procter & Gamble before eventually landing with 3M. She credited her Mizzou experience and the forward thinking of both companies for helping shape her commitment to empowering women and underrepresented minorities in the field.
“Companies talk the talk of diversity meaning better business, but you can actually see it. … The more diverse, whether by discipline as well as diversity in terms of people — I got to see the value,” she explained. “So yeah, I would like more women and minorities to have the opportunity to at least explore and look at it.”
Those experiences were fresh in her mind when she decided to lend her support. Carlson said she was fortunate to graduate with no student debt, and having the opportunity to pay the support she received forward was also a critical factor. Thanks to Carlson and the support of many other donors, College of Engineering students have the opportunity to worry less about the financial aspect of their education.
“I had the good fortune of a good career with 3M. … I’m glad students apply for and utilize the money. It’s good to share back when you’re in a position to help,” Carlson said.