Q&A with Eureka! alumna Eden Feleke
3M has long been committed to helping women develop a passion for—and career in—STEM fields. One of the ways it is opening doors for women is by investing in initiatives like Eureka!, a five-year program that helps girls gain experience in a variety of STEM areas throughout their time in junior high and high school.
While the COVID-19 pandemic put many Eureka! activities on hold, the inaugural cohort of Eurekans! graduated in 2020. Eureka! alumna, Eden Feleke, is now a freshman majoring in chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering. Her experience is featured here.
You just finished your first semester at the University. How did it go?
There were a lot of highs and lows, as can be expected. The pandemic and transitioning to online learning was the most challenging thing since I was really excited to make friends in college. In spite of this, I was still able to go to one in-person class and to get to know people there. There were also a lot of online group chats, which allowed for building friendships. Another highlight for me was joining the National Society of Black Engineers.
Describe your Eureka! experience.
When I joined Eureka! in eighth grade, it opened up a lot of possibilities. During my first summer in the program, professional women in STEM fields—doctors, engineers, anyone you could think of—gave presentations and talked about their experiences.
After the first year, there were a lot of internship opportunities, which were extremely beneficial. I did a four-week internship at the U’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences where another Eurekan! and I rotated through different labs to observe and assist research groups. The next summer, I interned in an analytical lab at Boston Scientific. I wasn’t 18, so I couldn’t touch the chemicals, but I was able to work with data, and to shadow and interview the engineers.
What was the most rewarding aspect of your time in Eureka!?
In addition to the internship opportunities, I received a lot of leadership opportunities through Eureka!. One highlight was participating in the Girls Action Network, a national council of 12 high school girls who met monthly to discuss topics such as sexual health and mental health education in the classroom. We interviewed our peers and came together as a group to exchange data on practices in different states. This culminated in an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C., where we were able to lobby a congressman on mental health education. Being able to take action and speak on behalf of my peers was a wonderful experience!
I also was able to speak at a YWCA Circle of Women event, which was a really big deal for me. There were a lot of donors, and probably more than 1,200 attendees. Taking that leap and giving that speech was an amazing opportunity!
What drew you to STEM and to a major in chemical engineering and materials science?
My chemistry class in high school was my first serious introduction. I loved my teacher, I loved how it was taught, and it made sense to me. I also knew that I wanted to do something in science because of my experience in Eureka!. I was initially drawn to medicine, but after volunteering at a children’s hospital during my sophomore year of high school, I discovered it wasn’t for me. When I put it all together, my enjoyment of science and how much I loved chemistry, I thought chemical engineering and materials science (CEMS) would be something to pursue.
What are your post-graduation goals?
I look forward to graduating with an engineering degree and working in the field. Right now, I see myself working as an engineer in one of two areas: one is pharmaceutical or medical devices, the other is beauty products. You can do so many different things with a CEMS degree!
What does it mean to you to know that donors like 3M have supported Eureka!?
I just want to say thank you so much. You are helping to change the lives of so many girls, including myself. What you’re doing is tremendous work. Let’s keep it up! Let’s keep inspiring young girls to pursue STEM careers, to pursue engineering, to pursue anything they believe would not typically be for them. Eureka! really does open up a world of possibilities.
"Having mentors who are not necessarily teachers looking to grade you has a tremendous impact on academics. Eureka! has been a driving force behind my academic success and my interest in continuing to pursue and do well in my education. Donors who invest in programs like Eureka! are doing such an amazing job!"