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Lighting the STEM Fire! What ignited you?

Discover how CH2M's Matthew Sutton and two of this year’s STEM Leadership Hall of Fame inductees got switched on to STEM.

CH2M Private Client Sector President Matthew Sutton gave the keynote remarks at the STEM Leadership Hall of Fame Induction at U.S. News and World Report STEM Solutions Conference in San Diego, California. Take a moment and read how he, and two of this year’s Hall of Fame inductees, got switched on to STEM.

Matthew Sutton

When she dissected her mother’s iron, Dr. Susan Hockfield never faced reprisal. Instead, she was encouraged to follow her curiosity, fiddle and take things apart, sometimes leaving a trail of debris behind her.

Susan, whose forte has always been dissecting rather than assembling, is now a leading biological scientist in anatomy, president emerita of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a recent inductee to the 2017 U.S. News STEM Leadership Hall of Fame.

To keep his desired day-student status at his all-boys boarding school in Greece, Dr. Iaonnis Miaoullis needed straight A’s in the courses he failed in the previous quarter. Working toward his goal, Iaonnis forged a mentorship with his physics teacher and found his own love of physics. Now, in addition to joining Susan as an inductee into the 2017 U.S. News STEM Leadership Hall of Fame, he is the president of the Museum of Science in Boston.

All of us at some point have been switched on by an event, a moment in time when our fire or passion was lit, a moment when we realized what we wanted to do, and the direction we wanted to move in.

For Susan, her curiosity in figuring out how things work was her moment – and in her case, she found anatomy. For Iaonnis, failing courses and working hard to pass the next semester led him to physics. For me, it happened just north of Cape Cod, in the small town of Marshfield, Massachusetts, located a few miles from Plymouth Rock where the Mayflower Pilgrims landed in 1621.

Growing up, my hilltop home overlooked a 100,000-acre coastal estuary, with the South River running through it. What I now appreciate as a dynamic tidal influence, where brackish and freshwater met, was my afterschool play area. I spent hours in that marsh, catching frogs, snakes and turtles.

And that beautiful habitat I once loved is gone. Downgradient from a landfill, the stream next to my home became polluted from leachate contaminants, eventually killing off local flora and fauna, and harming the watershed.

As I grew older, I watched the creek, stream and animals slowly disappear. And for me, that was my moment. I really wanted to know how that environmental degradation happened, what that leachate was, and how it impacted the animals – that’s when my fire was lit. It spurred me on to a passion for the environment, ultimately studying chemical engineering at university and pursuing a 30-year career in environmental engineering, where I still love my job!

Our world is in crisis and STEM can help. We need to reach more young Susans, Iaonnis’ and Matthews to light their fires, to articulate how cool a career in STEM can be and to fire up their passions. This year’s STEM Hall of Fame inductees are a testament to the tremendous impact STEM leaders can have on our world. And I was pleased to introduce and congratulate the distinguished class of 2017:

  • Ursula Burns, Chairman of the Board, Xerox Corporation

  • Dr. Iaonnis Miaoulis, President, Museum of Science, Boston

  • Dr. Susan Hockfield, President Emerita, MIT

  • Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO, Dow Chemical Company

  • Dr. Ellen Ochoa, Director, NASA Johnson Space Center

STEM is a critical part in developing the future of our country, our world and addressing the complex issues before us. The National Science Foundation predicts that 80 percent of the new jobs created in the next decade will require a mastery of technology, math or science disciplines.

Yet, there’s a great shortfall in new talent to help face the increasing challenges of our world. At CH2M, we have nearly 600 STEM positions open today. And, I know from talking with our engineering peers, we’re not alone.

Organizationally, CH2M at the very core is a STEM company. When we send our employees out to develop infrastructure for the future, assess wetlands and endangered habitats and create green advanced facilities – we’re sustaining their fires and passions, reminding them every day of the moment they got switched on.

The rest of this year’s STEM Hall of Fame recipients, two Fortune 500 (62 and 162) CEOs and a Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, also shared their moments during the 2017 U.S. News STEM Solutions conference. I encourage you to think about yours – and how you can articulate it to light the fire for the next generation.

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