How many entry-level candidates are overlooked based solely on their GPA? And what do employers risk losing when all they consider is a number and not the person behind it?

Take, for example, Hannah Lender, a biomedical engineering major at the University of Minnesota who, despite her passion and excitement to work in the medical device field, found herself getting passed over simply because her GPA was below 3.0.

STEM-ward bound
Lender was an above average student all throughout high school, graduating fourth in her class out of 282 fellow students. She completed 60 PSEO credits post-college, competed for four years in her school’s FIRST Robotics team, and at 18 procured a full-time, paid internship at 3M.

Thanks to 3M’s Science Training Encouragement Program (STEP), in 2019 Lender and 30 other students from Saint Paul Public Schools were given the opportunity to attend lectures at the 3M campus, learn about career opportunities in STEM and get their first taste of a professional lab environment through the paid summer internships they received while in the program.

“Participating in 3M STEP was the best decision I made in high school!” Lender said. “That summer was my first experience with corporate engineering and research & development, and I fell in love with it!”

Curious about the medical side of engineering, Lender decided to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering and was the first biomed student hired in 3M’s Personal Safety Division.

Barriers to entry
Challenges began to arise while attending school out of state. Trying to balance her mental health amidst a bout of homesickness and a global lockdown due to COVID-19, Lender, like many college students at the time, found her academic performance greatly affected by the pandemic. She failed a few classes and reduced her credit load, which not only impacted her GPA but pushed back her expected graduation date as well.

Despite the setback, Lender was still determined to start laying the groundwork for a career in medical devices. But when she began applying for internships, she encountered a roadblock.

“I applied to internships directly on company websites and through Handshake. These last few years of college have been extremely challenging, and my GPA has fallen below 3.0, which is the cutoff for many engineering internships. I applied anyway, hoping that they would look at my resume and see that I’ve been working at 3M since 2019, but I had no luck getting these companies interested in me.”

Lender remained resilient and tried reworking her resume, attending networking events and seeking advice from engineers she knew at 3M.

“Sadly, I had no luck…. until I found SciTech!”

Bridging the divide
“I made a SciTech account on March 1 and SciTech approved my application after just 2 hours! I applied to 6 internships that day. Within a few days, I received responses from 3 companies. On March 3, I had a phone interview with Northern Nitinol. On March 7, I visited the company and immediately felt at home. On March 15, I was offered an internship there!”

As a free workforce development resource, the SciTech Internship Program is Minnesota’s bridge between college STEM talent looking for work, and small employers offering paid opportunities in industry.

From a student’s perspective, one of the greatest benefits of the program is that it puts job seekers like Lender in direct contact with hiring managers. Not only was she exposed to unique opportunities, but Lender also had the chance to put herself before her GPA by speaking one-on-one with decision-makers at these companies and showing them her passion and potential right from the start.

“Academic ability does not necessarily reflect someone’s passion and ability to succeed in a work environment,” Lender said. “My definition of success in a career is finding something you’re passionate about and making a positive impact. I’m interested in medical devices, so if I’m happy where I work and am furthering the development of medical devices to help people, then I’ve found success.”

Full speed ahead
Now working as a General Lab Associate at Northern Nitinol, Lender has the opportunity to learn from a leader in nitinol medical device research and development. She’ll get to assist in the development of prototypes in an industry setting, collaborate with experts, apply her talents and continue to grow her professional network, all while getting paid.

In return, Northern Nitinol has found an enthusiastic employee, eager to contribute as well as learn.

“I’m super excited to work hands-on with device fabrication and development, and to use my CAD skills for medical devices!” Said Lender, “Nitinol is a unique and intriguing material, so I want to learn as much as I can about its properties, manufacturing, and uses in the medical device industry.”

A pipeline for success
Given Minnesota’s STEM workforce needs, both current and looming, an avenue for improved retention begins with increased opportunity. Not just lowering the GPA requirement set in automated filters, but in prioritizing direct and open communication with candidates as well.

Prior to joining the program, Many SciTech students have expressed their frustration while attempting to navigate an AI-monitored job market. Getting filtered out based on statistics leaves many candidates feeling neglected and unseen.

From Lender’s perspective, “It’s important to me to have a real person respond because it shows that the company has a genuine interest in my abilities and appreciation for my interest in working with them.”

By starting with that level of openness and inclusive engagement, a stronger connection can be made.

In the SciTech Program, many employers have embraced a passion-over-GPA approach to recruiting and it’s lead to measurable recruiting success. The more organizations willing to open their doors for go-getters like Lender, the stronger our STEM workforce will become.