The 100 Diverse Corporate Leaders in STEM blog series features a new business executive Monday-Friday and the exemplary work his or her company is doing to support 21st century STEM learning and workforce development- particularly for women, minorities and under-represented groups. Learn more and download the whole copy at STEMConnector.org/100Diverse. Follow the conversation on social media using #100STEMLeaders. Today's Diverse Corporate Leader is Dawne S. Hickton, vice chair, president and CEO at RTI International Metals, Inc.
Dawne S. Hickton
Vice Chair, President and CEO
RTI International Metals, Inc.
Dawne S. Hickton is Vice Chair, President and CEO of RTI International Metals, Inc. She has more than 25 years of diversified metals experience, including more than fifteen years in the titanium industry spanning several business cycles. Since becoming Chief Executive in 2007, Ms. Hickton has led a strategic transformation of RTI to become a leading vertically integrated global supplier of advanced titanium and specialty metals products and services for the commercial aerospace, defense, energy and medical device markets. Ms. Hickton is the President and a Director of the International Titanium Association. She is also the Chair and a Director of the Board of Directors of the Pittsburgh branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland and a Member of the Board of Governors of the Aerospace Industries Association.
About RTI International Metals, Inc.
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA, RTI International Metals, Inc. is an advanced titanium and specialty metals manufacturer with more than 2500 employees and 25 manufacturing and other facilities in North America, Europe and Asia. The company develops, produces and delivers advanced titanium mill products, titanium and specialty metal extruded shapes, formed and precision-machined parts and components, sub-assemblies and specialized services across the entire supply chain to a broad range of customers in the commercial aerospace, defense, energy exploration and production and medical device industries. Throughout its more than 60 year operating history, RTI has gained an international reputation for innovation, quality, reliability and value in its product and service offerings.
Dawne on Diversity and STEM
Why is STEM Education/workforce development critical to the future of our nation?
As someone who leads a global industrial manufacturing company, my daily experience brings home the message that technology is evolving faster than ever before, and competition in the global economy is growing more fierce every day. We see it directly at RTI, where the last major change to manufacturing titanium metal took ten years to bear fruit. Today, in just eighteen months, we are seeing additive manufacturing and 3D printing changing the technology landscape. In this context, I am also made more keenly aware every day that STEM education and workforce development are more important to our nation’s technology future today than they have ever been in our history.
Accordingly, I believe it is the responsibility of educators at all levels, business leaders, government, academia – all sectors of society – to make world class STEM education and workforce development more of a priority in the U.S. than it is today. I strongly believe we need to focus on early education and middle school to develop math skills and science interest.
How do we encourage students to continue their study of STEM subjects, particularly women and underrepresented minorities?
Inspiration can come from many sources. For example, my own kids have ridden the robotic Raytheon simulator in Disney World, and at the same time I share work experiences with high school classmates of my children through my Twitter account. All this shares real world experiences that demonstrate technology can be fun and even exciting. I’m not suggesting that a theme park ride alone can be enough to stimulate someone to pursue a career in engineering or technology, but I do know the experience made a positive impression on my children that could play a role in their future career decision-making.
What traits do corporate leaders need to effectively support STEM education today?
Most simply put, corporate leaders need to make a serious and lasting commitment to STEM education. This means supporting rigorous math and science classes throughout the education system, but this need for commitment transcends the classroom. Corporate America must offer more internships and apprenticeships, devote more resources to scholarships and expand mentoring programs in order to advance STEM. At RTI, we support apprenticeship, co-op engineering and internship programs for students in college, and we provide a defined technical career track for employees once they join RTI. We are always looking for new ways to broaden our involvement.
What is your advice to those promoting STEM education?
Promoting STEM education is particularly challenging because, for the most part, technical and engineering careers are not generally the most high-paying opportunities, and they tend to lack the glamour of Wall Street or big business careers. So the most important advice I can give to those promoting STEM education is to understand, first of all, that in many ways they have an uphill challenge that requires patience. Promoting STEM is not a short-term project and those involved in the effort need to be in it for the long haul. Having said that, I also think it is important to pay special attention to students that demonstrate interest and aptitude in STEM and to look for creative ways to inspire that go beyond the classroom.
Business can help in this endeavor by providing opportunities for students to see their STEM education “in action” through special projects and programs. One STEM-related initiative we are proud of at RTI is our sponsorship of a high school team to compete in the annual Aerospace Industries Association Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). This year, we included a visit by the RTI-sponsored TARC team to our titanium plant in Niles, Ohio, as a way of showing the students some of the opportunities to which their interest in STEM can lead.
In sum, everyone with a stake in America’s economic future has a responsibility to take an interest in promoting STEM education with energy, imagination, creativity, lasting commitment and resources. The U.S. has built the most dynamic economy the world has ever seen. To sustain our leadership, advancing STEM education needs to be a continuing priority.