Byrne among Dow Leaders Committed to STEM
Something magical happens when Norm Byrne performs science demonstrations for a room full of teenagers: their inhibitions disappear.
“I ask them this question: What is magic? Can science explain a lot of things that we think of as magic?” Byrne explained. “I want to make them think, and draw them in, and be a part of it.”
That approach – along with such crowd-pleasers as silly slime and an “airzooka” that fires a blast of air to knock over objects from across the room – quickly overcomes students’ preconceptions about science.
“The kids just get into it. They love it,” Byrne said. “When I ask for volunteers to take part, everyone’s hands go up. They’re so involved, so engaged. I show them things they have never seen before.”
Visiting classrooms to do science demonstrations is not part of Byrne’s job description. As director of Research & Development for Dow’s Oil, Gas & Mining business in Freeport, Texas, he manages a vast operation that develops products, improves operations and drives innovations, leading a large team of scientists, technicians and other personnel with cutting-edge skills. Despite this great responsibility – or maybe because of it – Byrne is willing to help develop the workforce of the future through both his own active volunteerism and through building a culture that embraces employee engagement in STEM outreach. He is a prime example of a Dow leader who has accepted that challenge in deed, not just in concept.
“At Dow, we are in the business of creating solutions for human progress,” said A.N. Sreeram, Senior Vice President Research & Development and Chief Technology Officer. “Norm’s long-standing commitment to developing the next generation of scientists and leaders will ensure that this progress continues and that our society will be well prepared to boldly meet the challenges and opportunities ahead. Through his passion for connecting students with science, Norm is truly the Human Element at Work.”
Byrne has led the growth in Texas of Dow STEM Ambassadors, an internal organization that encourages and supports employee involvement in community outreach. His success in engaging students was recognized recently by the American Chemical Society (ACS), which presented Byrne with its Local Section Outreach Volunteer of the Year award. The recognition included a glowing description of his impact in the community.
“Norm is enthusiastic, dedicated, and creative in promoting science interest among youth in our wide geographic community,” the ACS said in a public statement. “Norm’s big ideas include an exciting introduction to polymers that uses a urethane synthesis to create a sculpture and a giant gyroscope that rotates kids on a turntable. He demonstrates for the Math and Science Camp at church. Norm has also been an enthusiastic supporter of Take Your Child to Work Day. He is fundamental in the sponsorship and leadership of the Dow Freeport STEM Ambassadors. Under Norm’s leadership, the STEM Ambassadors are gathering support and volunteers from a variety of professional organizations.”
Not least of all, Byrne’s time in classrooms has been recognized by the students themselves, who often write him letters that spell out the impact he has.
“I plan on becoming a scientist one day, and your demonstrations only fueled my excitement to do just that,” wrote one student.