TWIST Program Gives Teachers Hands-On Experience in STEM

Teachers are familiar with a common complaint from students: “When am I ever going to use this in the real world?”

For complex subjects like science and technology, it can be a difficult question to answer given the wide breadth of careers and opportunities. What better way to answer this question than by giving teachers an actual example to draw from?

To help solve this, 3M developed a summer internship for teachers called TWIST (Teachers Working in Science and Technology) which the Minnesota Technology Association helps run. Since 1984, teachers from around the country have been paired with a 3M employee to assist them with real-world projects.

Over six weeks, middle school and high school teachers can experience how science and technology are utilized in the real world, practice their skills at a high level, and bring back valuable insights on industry science opportunities to their students.

Additionally, 3M survey data shows that the TWIST program has a large improvement in the teacher’s knowledge of industry. Prior to the program, only 35% of teachers stated they were “somewhat or very satisfied” with their knowledge of industry. After completing the program, that number jumped to 95%. Survey responses below also highlight the impact of this program.

“It has definitely changed the way I view and teach science, as well as how I encourage my students to pursue science.”

“Now, I have more confidence in the ‘why’ behind what I teach AND I can incorporate real world examples and future career possibilities.”

“The tours and talks were all really great!  It was fun to meet people who truly were getting joy out of the cool science/engineering projects they worked on.”

Back in the Lab

Sarah Vance, a high school science teacher at Legacy Christian Academy in Andover, Minnesota, has participated in the TWIST program twice. Her first experience was in a microbiology lab working on implantable devices and her second summer focused on bacterial DNA.

Vance went back to school to earn her master’s degree several years ago and says she appreciated the opportunity to get back in the lab again. Working with a scientist on a technical project at 3M gave her the opportunity to absorb how science is practiced in an industry setting and bring a better learning experience to her students when teaching microbiology.

As part of the TWIST program, Vance presented her research and work during a poster session. This experience reminded her that being able to present and discuss research is an important skill to have when pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, or math. Since her first experience with TWIST in 2018, Vance has been integrating poster sessions regularly into her pedagogy and seen her students succeed in this application of a real-world skill.

Hosting and Teaching

Paired with each teacher is a 3M employee who helps guide the educator through a research project. Dr. Kevin Frankel, Senior Product Development Specialist at 3M, has been involved with the program since 2008 as both a host for teachers and as a co-chair for the TWIST committee.

Dr. Frankel sees his work with TWIST as an opportunity to provide teachers with something to bring back to students, whether that is a greater appreciation for how science and technology can be taught or a better understanding of careers in the STEM field.

The component of TWIST that Dr. Frankel enjoys the most is the opportunity to connect with teachers. Joining a 3M employee can be a challenge because teachers need to flip their mindset from a teacher focus to a student focus, where asking questions, rather than answering, is a priority. Often, Dr. Frankel says that teachers will ask questions he would not have thought of, and this allows him to approach problems from a unique angle.

Dr. Frankel notes that a major goal is to empower teachers to show students how they can fit into a career at 3M. As a large organization that works across major industries, Dr. Frankel says there are opportunities at 3M for students even if they don’t pursue science or technology careers.

Encouraging Careers in STEM

As the demand for technologists grows, Minnesota is facing several growing pains. Many roles in areas such as software development and engineering go unfilled simply because there are not enough people with the skills needed to fill the roles. Programs such as TWIST are an important piece of the puzzle in easing these shortages. By gaining hands-on experience to bring back to their students, teachers can become more effective educators, and hopefully inspire their students to pursue a career in science and technology. Their lessons have real-world examples behind them, and students may see themselves in a role that they had not previously known about.

If you have interest in participating in the TWIST program and teach middle or high school math, science, or technology, reach out to the TWIST program chairs at or visit the 3M TWIST site here.