For some people, all it takes is one great mentor to break open an undiscovered path that ultimately leads to a career. For others, it’s an instinct to pursue a lifelong passion.
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For Kim Ann Mink it was a little boy when she was eight years old who told her girls weren’t allowed to be scientists.
“At a ripe old age of eight years old I learned that having a goal laced with that resilience and determination is just as important a variable in the success equation as one’s capability,” she said.
Despite the early friction, she never doubted her direction. Mink now serves as president of Elastomers, Electrical and Telecom at Dow Chemical (DOW).
Test Tubes, Lab Coats…and Pearls
Many people say they always knew what they wanted to pursue as a career when they were young, but Mink really means it when she says she always knew science was her destiny.
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Neither of Mink’s parents were interested in science, and neither attended college, but when she was very young her parents gifted her a chemistry set. It became one of her favorite presents because it’s what initially got her hooked on science.
"As I basked in my uniqueness, this little boy sitting next to me said, and I quote, this is the God’s honest truth, ‘Little girls can’t be scientists.'"
To say she was passionate is an understatement. Any opportunity to talk about science was a welcomed one for Mink. She can easily recall a very specific moment when she was in second grade and the teacher assigned the class to depict their dream jobs on a milk container.
“I transformed the milk container into a little girl with a white lab coat on, with high heels and pearls no less, holding a test tube with black smoke coming out of it,” Mink said with a laugh. “And I was very proud of myself because not only was I the only little girl in the class who had chosen science as a profession, but I was the only student in the entire class [who chose it].”
But her joy was short-lived.
“As I basked in my uniqueness, this little boy sitting next to me said, and I quote, this is the God’s honest truth, ‘Little girls can’t be scientists,’” Mink said.
Rather than letting it take the wind from her sails, Mink decided she would one day prove that little boy wrong.
And she did.
Bonding with a Mentor: A Key Element to Success
Mink earned her bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College and immediately went on to earn her Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from Duke before she landed her first job in research and development at Shell Oil and Chemical. She stayed there for two years working on analysis for various Shell businesses. After, she went to Rohm and Haas Company where she stayed for two decades until it was acquired by Dow in 2009.
Despite the lab coat of her childhood dreams, after three years working in a lab environment, Mink decided that wasn’t where she wanted to live out her career. It was the business end of science that really started to intrigue her. So she enrolled in a business management program at the Wharton School of Business to pursue the next stage of her career.
Serendipity played a key role in the second phase of her career, she said. Not long after Mink returned to work following the completion of her business program and giving birth to her son, a senior executive called her into his office.
“He called me up, and it was the longest walk I’d ever taken – I convinced myself something was very wrong,” Mink remembers.
But his news was completely different than anything she expected, but everything she wanted.
“He said, ‘Kim Ann, you’re going to go into sales.’ He launched my commercial career. Two weeks later I was in sales. From a mentoring standpoint, he was a true sponsor,” she said.
But he wasn’t the only person who helped guide her in her career. Mink said she really can’t overstate the importance of having someone who can help guide you – especially early in your career – and motivate you to take the next steps toward your goals.
She said for her, it all goes back to a high school chemistry teacher her sophomore year who believed in her.
“I still think about him. Chemistry was his passion: The way he taught it, I fell in love with science a deeper way, especially chemistry. As a young woman in high school, I said I’m going to be a chemist. That was the nail that closed everything else off for me. It was all about the teacher.”
Taking Action and Inspiring Through STEM
It’s no secret Mink works in a typically male-dominated industry, and she’s proud of the fact that she’s achieved a high-powered career – despite the little boy in grade school –working alongside her male colleagues. It’s the reason she’s also dedicated a good amount of her time to STEM –science, technology, engineering, and math – education and encouraging young girls to pursue their own careers in those industries.
Mink is a member of the STEM Executive Council at Dow, which focuses on developing the company’s global education strategy in those areas of study, and this year, she was also named to STEMconnector’s 100 Diverse Corporate Leaders in STEM.
She said she’s proud to support interest and education in what has become the second-fastest growing occupational group, second only to health care.
“We’re going to see that growth increase 26% between 2010 and 2020. So that tells us that there’s going to be great job opportunities,” she said. “We try to start when children are young and try to get them interested in STEM topics. And the hope is when those children go off to college, they pick STEM majors.”
With all of the opposition she faced, even at a young age, Mink has never backed down from a challenge, and said her best advice is to always be authentic. Even though she long ago shed her white lab coat – she still sticks to her pearl necklaces and black high heels.
“I often call myself a chameleon: I’ve had to adjust to changing times and changing issues in the industry. But I learned that as long as you’re true to yourself, you can be successful in anything.”