PLTW Alumnus Uses Voice to Promote Early Exposure to STEM

Quinn Woodard first heard of PLTW in his eighth grade algebra class and took PLTW Engineering courses throughout high school. He went on to earn a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Tulsa and received a job offer from Chevron upon graduation following two consecutive summer internships with the company.

Still at Chevron nine years later, he has earned an MBA from the Kelly School of Business at Indiana University and passionately advocates for early access to STEM education. This passion has led him to serve on committees for organizations such as PLTW and The College Board, speak on panels for the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) and events including PLTW Summit in Anaheim this past January, and even write a children’s book!

Recently, Quinn took time from his busy schedule to talk with us further.

What is your current role at Chevron?

I am the operations advisor to the general manager of operations for upstream capability. In this role, I am leveraging what I understand about the business as a Facilities Engineer and coupling it with a new focus on data – my day-to-day includes managing  financials, focusing on safety, and reviewing operational performance data for key insights.

This is the second role outside of the engineering function that I have had, and it gives me the opportunity to gain exposure to the entire business, from reservoir to the pipeline. The great thing about Chevron is that you have the opportunity to move around within the company.

What led you to where you are now?

I would definitely attribute all of it to PLTW, coupled with a passion for math. I really loved math, and it often came with science where I was just ok. I had to work at it, but I realized I had to work at that to complete my goal of becoming an electrical engineer.

Was there a particular PLTW class that really stood out to you?

I took PLTW all four years of high school, starting with Introduction to Engineering. Taking Digital Electronics my junior year sparked my interest – no pun intended. It really challenged me. Doing all this wiring and programming, it was my first taste of making mistakes in school where it was ok. I was learning from my mistakes.

After high school, how did your educational path prepare you for where you are today?

After freshman year of college, I did research through the Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge, or TURC. Our focus that year was on autonomous gameplaying robotics. Having the Digital Electronics course experience helped me jump into the program.

The next summer, I was hired as an intern at Chevron and asked to return as an intern the following summer. During my internships with Chevron, I was given a problem, a deadline to achieve my objective, and stakeholders to engage with – sounds familiar if you’ve ever taken a PLTW course. I was able to demonstrate the right competencies – I was able to think outside of the box and establish creative and doable alternatives, all thought patterns established from PLTW.

What do you like most about your job?

I love the constant learning curve and being challenged. You have to be on your feet and able to adapt as change comes. 

I also love Chevron being a major partner with PLTW and other STEM initiatives, so it gives me the chance to give back. I love to talk to people and help them understand they can overcome their fears.

You wrote a children’s book called “Like Me.” What inspired you to do that?

PLTW does great work! But it was only available for me in high school. How can we get kids exposed to those opportunities earlier? Other than the internet, the easiest way to spread the message is through literature. I participated in a panel at the 2014 PLTW Summit and started making notes for the book. My sister works in early childhood education, and once I had the story written I got her input to make sure it was relevant to young children. Life happens, but finally I sent it off last year to be published.

What made you decide to participate in PLTW Summit as an emcee at the Anaheim experience?

Any opportunity that I can use my voice for any cause is great, so I jumped at the opportunity. It was exciting to participate.

What advice or words of wisdom do you have for current PLTW students, particularly those in the engineering pathway?

It’s challenging but that is ok. That’s normal. The idea is to become comfortable being uncomfortable – discomfort is a part of life.  Master that, and you’ll be ok. There are resources around you to help you move through those tough moments in life.