Chief Information Officer and Corporate Vice President of Business Services, The Dow Chemical Company
Paula Tolliver has built a thriving career on putting expertise in information technology to use in maximizing organizational success. As Chief Information Officer and Corporate Vice President of Business Services for The Dow Chemical Company, Tolliver drives strategy for IT solutions and analytics that deliver competitive advantage for Dow. Tolliver has global responsibility for Information Systems, Procurement, Business Process Service Centers, Customer Service, Advanced Analytics, Facilities Management, and the Dow Services Business, which sells services beyond Dow. Tolliver’s interest in STEM fields began when she was growing up in Ohio. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in business information systems and computer science from Ohio University. Tolliver joined Dow in 1986 in the corporate Information Systems group in Midland, Michigan. After progressive leadership roles with that group, Tolliver moved to Human Resources in 1990 and was instrumental in the startup of the Dow Elanco joint venture (later Dow AgroSciences) in Indianapolis, Indiana. She held a broad range of leadership roles in Dow AgroSciences and moved to France in 1996 to lead its Europe Information Systems group. In 2000, Tolliver was named global Business Information Systems Director for Dow AgroSciences as well as a member of the Corporate Management Committee. Tolliver then joined Dow Purchasing in 2006, leading the transformation strategy for the function and setting the stage for breakthroughs in strategic sourcing. Tolliver served as global director of Strategic Sourcing for Dow, driving global sourcing strategies and supplier relationships for Raw Materials, External Manufacturing, Global Trading and Corporate Services. In 2009, she was named vice president of Purchasing, and assumed her role as corporate vice president of Business Services and Information Systems in August 2011.
Dow combines the power of science and technology to passionately innovate what is essential to human progress. The Company is driving innovations that extract value from the intersection of chemical, physical and biological sciences to help address many of the world’s most challenging problems such as the need for clean water, clean energy generation and conservation, and increasing agricultural productivity. Dow’s integrated, market-driven, industry-leading portfolio of specialty chemical, advanced materials, agrosciences and plastics businesses delivers a broad range of technology-based products and solutions to customers in approximately 180 countries and in high-growth sectors such as packaging, electronics, water, coatings and agriculture. In 2014, Dow had annual sales of more than $58 billion and employed approximately 53,000 people worldwide. The Company’s more than 6,000 product families are manufactured at 201 sites in 35 countries across the globe.
What is your advice to those involved in promoting STEM education?
To get the most out of our STEM education system, we have to make it real for students. Theoretical concepts are important, but today’s students won’t be fully engaged unless they feel a connection to what they are learning and see how it can change their world. When I was growing up, I gained wonderful insight from my father, a self-taught engineer who founded a machine products company in Nelsonville, Ohio. When my homework was done, he and I would do story problems together. It allowed me to see math as more than just a series of numbers, but also a way to solve problems and make things happen in real life. If we can help students view STEM subjects as a path to changing people’s lives, they will be on their way.
Dow supports a number of initiatives that help students feel connected to what they are learning. FIRST Robotics, for instance, offers high school students an opportunity to work in teams to create robots that compete in thrilling head-to-head competition. Students design, build, program and drive the robots, allowing them to put a wide range of STEM skills into practice. In 2015, more than 75,000 students on 3,000 teams took part in FIRST Robotics competition. Dow sponsored several of those teams, as well as many of the events at which they participated. We are proud to be a FIRST Strategic Partner, because we understand the impact it has when students can put their skills into action.
What STEM initiative that your company has supported are you most proud of?
I am extremely proud of the Dow STEM Ambassadors, a growing network of Dow employees who use their energy and expertise to help the public – especially students – learn about science and the exciting potential of STEM careers. For many years, individuals within our company have been involved in various outreach activities. But for the most part, each person acted as an individual, doing whatever seemed appropriate. Then some folks within Dow AgroSciences, where I spent a number of years, decided to organize their outreach efforts to make them even more effective. They built kits with instructions, so an employee could visit a school or a science festival without having to gather materials or worry about how to do a demonstration. They held meetings to brainstorm new presentations and creative ways to publicize their activities. They actively recruited new members. And it worked so well that we have expanded it to sites all over the country, including Michigan, Louisiana, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Texas, California, and Hawaii, and even several sites overseas. In each location, Dow employees can easily take part knowing their time and effort will be well spent. Dow STEM Ambassadors is especially effective because of three important elements:
Training: All STEM Ambassadors go through special training to maximize their success. Ambassadors don’t have to be scientists – everyone from accountants to office professionals to truck drivers to sales people is welcome – so they all learn about the basics of the science behind each demonstration. At the same time, even a person with an extensive science background might not know the best way to explain the important principles in a way that is most engaging, so they all benefit from some education training.
Curriculum-centered Content: Working with educators and highly respected researchers, STEM Ambassador leaders have developed demonstrations that connect with school curricula, so that a visit to a classroom can be an enhancement to lessons, not a break from them.
Safety: Using Dow’s world-class safety standards means all STEM Ambassador demonstrations meet the highest levels of safety.
Combining these strengths with the power of the wonderful people at Dow – what we call the Human Element – enables Dow STEM Ambassadors to have a positive impact on future generations.
How do we encourage students to continue their study of STEM subjects, particularly women and underrepresented minorities?
Once students discover the potential of STEM fields, they need support to be successful in continuing with their education. This is especially true of women and underrepresented minorities, who don’t see enough examples of people from similar backgrounds enjoying the fruits of a STEM education. As a woman in the male-dominated technology field, I can attest to the challenges that can present. Many times, I was the only woman in the room, and that can be intimidating for anyone. I was fortunate to have a level of confidence, instilled in me by my parents, that allowed me to stay on course. Building that confidence in today’s students offers the promise of a more creative, effective workforce. Dow has an extensive system of mentorship, internship and apprenticeship programs that have proven successful in smoothing the path for students, especially those who don’t have enough role models to follow. This year, we launched an expanded apprenticeship program at sites across the United States, partnering with community colleges to provide paid, on-the-job experience while students receive classroom instruction. As their confidence grows, and as they see more and more examples of the diversity that exists in the modern workforce, these students will be increasingly prepared to follow through on their interest in STEM careers.
It really depends, there are so many places. There’s a place called Essences, that’s a very good place. They seem to get very good quality stuff, but still old, 1920’s stuff. If they have the money I’d ask them to go to Zandra Rhodes, because she’s got a place where she works and you can buy them off the rail. They’re quite beautiful.