101. Hero – Jay Flores, Global STEM Ambassador at Rockwell Automation Transcript


Jay: 00:00

You know, my biggest fear is that that solution to cancer is in the mind of a young girl that is told that STEM is for boys or in the mind of a young kid who doesn’t have the access or the money to be able to pursue STEM opportunities. And so that’s really what drives me. That’s why I try to do everything I can.

With access and equity in mind and just trying to reach every single kid that I can, because you don’t know which one is going to be the one that changes the world. 

Chris: 00:29

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. A podcast that dives into industrial manufacturing topics and spotlights the heroes to keep America running. I’m your host, Chris Grainger and on this podcast, we do not cover the latest features and benefits on products that come to market. Instead, we focused on advice and insight from the top minds of industry because people and ideas will be how America remains number one in manufacturing in the world. 

Welcome to EECO Asks Why. We normally have hero episodes, but this one I’m going to call it a superhero episode. I think you’ll know why, once we get talking to our guests. So our guest today is Jay Flores, who is the Global STEM Ambassador at Rockwell Automation. Welcome Jay. 

Jay: 01:14

Thank you guys. Thanks for having me. 

Chris: 01:16

I kid on the superhero piece, because the first time I saw you at your Ted talk, you were wearing a Superman shirt. That was good stuff. So talk to our listeners about your journey to where you’re at now.

Jay: 01:28

Yeah, it’s funny. I think engineers really are superhero, so, you know, you’re, you’re using your science and technology to impact the world in a positive way. And most superheroes are actually scientists. If you need some fun examples of heroes, you can use some of the scientists that ended up becoming superheroes.

But yeah, I grew up very curious. I had awesome parents that allowed me to, for example take all the pots and pans out in the kitchen and bang around and do things like that and viewed it as, just exploration and not a nuisance. And my dad had a, kind of a STEM training via military and my mom is a psychologist, so she was always finding ways to help people.

And I just figured, finding a way into technology and science could, it could allow me to have creative ways to impact the world and to help people. So what it really boils down to is engineering and STEM are just problem solving and you get to decide the types of problems you want to solve.

And some of those problems end up, turning people into real life superheroes. So it’s been a fun journey. 

Chris: 02:36

No doubt, man. So how did you get to the role that you’re at right now with Rockwell? Have you always been with Rockwell or were there other companies that you worked with along the way.

Jay: 02:44

Yes. I was very fortunate to grow up in the shadow of the clock tower, the headquarters in Milwaukee and Rockwell has always been great about reaching out in the community and trying to provide opportunities and access for young people. And that kind of helped expose me to the world of engineering.

I did an engineering summer camp at the university of Wisconsin, Madison that was supported by Rockwell Automation. And that’s what helped me decide really that I wanted to become an engineer. I did a couple internships with Rockwell. I did a couple of internships with GE Healthcare as well. But ultimately ended up choosing Rockwell Automation for full-time. Did some I did the sales training program.

Which then led me to leading the Southeast Florida sales territory for like three years. And then from there via that Ted talk that you just explained, actually one of our vice presidents got ahold of it, and we were at the first robotics competition world championship and she goes, you’re like our STEM ambassador.

And we both looked at each other and were kind of like that shouldn’t be a thing. And so it took about a year, but we pitched the role. Created it. It didn’t exist before. And I’ve been doing that for almost five years now. And it’s just been absolutely incredible opportunity to use my problem solving skills in a way that helps solving a very unique problem. And how do we create more inspiration in the STEM world and how do we get more young people equipped with the skills they need to make a positive impact on the world. 

Chris: 04:16

Right. Now, for those that are listening, so a STEM ambassador or Global STEM ambassador, what does that entail, Jay? 

Jay: 04:25

It changes every single day, honestly. I’ve got a couple buckets that I categorize some of my key responsibilities in though. So one of that is managing the STEM partnerships that Rockwell has. So we have millions of dollars invested in different organizations that are helping us solve this problem and inspiring young people and giving them the right opportunities and access that they need.

And so I help manage the strategy behind that with organizations, like First. I manage our in kind donations to those organizations. So the student, the competition fields that they’re playing on are automated by Rockwell Automation products all over the world. We also provide products for the robots themselves, and so students have access to actually using real industry technology. 

The same sensor that they’re using on their robot could be used in any facility across the world for making, I don’t know, cookies or cars or whatever it is that they’re manufacturing. So that relationship and strategy is a key part of my role. The second is the internal, just making internal to the company, making STEM a part of our company’s DNA.

So Rockwell has been recognized for many years as being a very ethical company. One of the top companies in the world for ethics every single year. We receive all kinds of awards for that. And I want to make STEM that kind of level, that all our employees have access and confidence in being able to go out into the community and do similar work to what I’m doing. Whether that’s mentoring a first robotics team or just going into a school and talking to them about the cool opportunities in the industry.

And then the final aspect is just general STEM advocacy and awareness and making STEM loud. Helping our country and world be a place where it’s celebrated and where our scientists and engineers really are looked at as superheroes, as you mentioned. And so that’s public speaking engagements, conferences, I speak at a lot of the first world championships and events like that.

The social media things that I do to amplify them, whether that be just general content on my Instagram and LinkedIn or the series that I do, It’s not magic. It’s science on Tik, TOK and YouTube, just whatever I can do to continue to elevate the awareness and celebration of excellence in STEM.

Chris: 06:45

Right. Absolutely. All great things. We’ll put those links as well in our show notes for listeners, they can check out all the, all of J’s content. But  you’re in STEM a lot. This is your life. What are you hearing is some of the greatest challenges out there for STEM?

Jay: 06:59

For me, one of the biggest concerns is that we’re becoming technology consumers and not creators and that, but then also paired with how we leverage our skills and what we’re creating with them. Right. So for example, someone in computer science could code the game Flappy Bird, right?

Which to me, and it was one of the biggest ways of human productivity of all time. How many hours people spend on that game getting a high score of like 10. Whereas, could we use that brain power and knowledge to create apps that make the world a better place, so that save lives. And so I feel like as an especially in the United States as a country, we need to reevaluate what we’re celebrating and make sure that it’s positive for the future of our kids is positive for the future of the planet.

And just making sure that is elevated to a level in a way that we celebrate sports or we celebrate movies and actors and things like that. We need to help bring excellence in science, obviously that level of excitement and celebration. And that’s a huge challenge, but it’s so important for the future of the country and of the world.

Chris: 08:17

Right. Do you see anybody taking a leadership role in that celebration? Does anything jump out? 

Jay: 08:22

I think First is a great organization at that. If you look at their world championship this year’s unfortunately is canceled due to COVID, but last year, the championship matches.

There’s two championships that they host because the organization’s gotten so large, they have one in Houston and one in Detroit. I was there for both championships. I was on the field of Minute Maid Park filming these robots and celebrating with the students. The same place where the Houston Astros won world series, not too long ago. In Detroit the final matches were in Ford field.

So seeing an NFL football stadium not completely filled, so that’s a huge feat, but a significant portion of an NFL football stadium filled with young people that are cheering and screaming. And I’m excited for the matches that they’re seeing of robots completing pretty cool tasks. And the fact that it’s not just robots beating each other up, is it even more exciting?

There’s this things in the values of the students are learning are incredible. And so I feel like if we can get more organizations that can provide us with that sports feel, but with an educational piece to it is that would be, golden. I think First is leading the way there.

Chris: 09:35

Right. That’s awesome, man. No doubt. I mean it’s so for the listener out there, Jay, that they want to either pursue STEM or encourage perhaps their children or other youth to pursue STEM. What advice would you offer? 

Jay: 09:50

Start with their passion. Start with what they already like. So one of the biggest mistakes I see with parents and teachers, as they try to convince them, Oh, you shouldn’t do this and that you should do this robotics thing or the STEM camp instead of the thing that you like.

Whereas if you were to look and just say, okay, My son or daughter loves this sport. How can I think of examples that are going well, or that connects well to STEM? So let’s say they love hockey. For example, have you ever thought of what temperature the ice needs to be and how they can do that in a large stadium?

Have you ever thought of the physics behind American Ninja Warrior, for example, which is a very popular family show and the design of the obstacles themselves. There’s all kinds of cool examples. And it, you may not know all the engineering or the science behind it, but even just asking those questions, have you thought of, or why do you think they do it this way?

Or why don’t they do it that way? Just getting them to be curious in those spaces and just plugging in that science and math and technology, whenever you can. Is going to help them go forth because most people is a very small portion of the population that likes math, just because it’s math. They just have a natural passion for math itself.

Most people have a passion for some kind of area or problem solving in some kind of space. And then they learn the math and science that they need in order to make an impact there. And so it’s, we got to make sure that we’re leading with passion and then bringing in the math and science after. 

Chris: 11:28

No doubt. I even noticed like ESPN years ago, I don’t even know if they still do it, but they would break down certain plays and they, and I had this basically this engineer who came in and like the angle that the ball goes off the bat, he would calculate that. And then velocity speed. And from there. Okay. How far did it travel? And that just. Okay. I just remembered that as that’s pretty cool. That’s a really good way to tie the math into us, to a sports analogy. Cool stuff there, man. 

Jay: 11:56

Definately. If ESPN is listening, I love to help with that. Um, but also like I’ve done things like that before with I trained American Ninja Warrior and, hopefully my story will get picked up someday. But I’ve had a workshop before with kids and I show them, we’ll do like a rope swing for example, and I’ll make it very long from starting platform to ending platform.

So it’s difficult for their age level. And then I’ll explain the physics of it and like where you should grab and what will give you the longest distance. And just by learning that, without any improvement in their actual physical strength there’s or physical abilities, they’re able to improve their performance on that, just by understanding a little bit of the science of how the obstacle works. And I think that can apply to a lot of other sports too. 

Chris: 12:42

That’s a really cool analogy. A good way to break it down for a young person. So did I hear you, right? You said you train for American Ninja Warrior. You do that type of training? 

Jay: 12:52

Yeah. So I started with obstacle course racing, which is like the outdoors version where you’re running in the mud and doing obstacles and stuff. Cause I ran cross country in high school. But then I also do training specifically for American Ninja Warrior. If they’re listening too, hopefully we can You know, get some robots out there on, on the course and do something fun. I’m going to definitely gonna apply for this next season. If they have another season.

Chris: 13:17

No doubt, man. We’re behind you. We’ll be rooting for you, Jay. How about that, buddy? 

Jay: 13:22

I appreciate it. 

Chris: 13:22

So, there’s a lot of people when they think of STEM, they have some perceptions that come to mind and they’re not always positive. So are there any negative ones or anything you want to like, just kick out? Like, this is what people think of STEM, but this is reality? 

Jay: 13:36

Yeah, I feel like there’s still some kind of old stereotypes around manufacturing being dirty and dangerous and all that. And if you go into some facilities right now, you can eat off the floor. Like there’s, there’s a lot of safety improvements that have gone over time and Rockwell Automation has been a big piece in that, in the automation space.

And it’s just a it’s a great space for an awesome career. That’s not as dangerous and dirty as people may have thought it is. Based on what they know from back in the day. The other thing that I think is key is that we look at it. Most people are saying, when I’m talking to young people, Oh, if you’re good at math and science, you can become an engineer.

When I think you really just need to focus on curiosity. Cause I honestly, I was not the most passionate about my math class when I was growing up. I was the one that was always raising their hand and bugging the teacher. Why would I ever need to use this again in my life? And I never really got a good answer and that was very frustrating for me.

Fortunately some of the summer camps I did and helped me see it a little more. But we need to lead with kind of the curiosity and questioning. And then from there, when you have that spark and you have that excitement where someone wants, young people want to go out and do experiments that they see online or on YouTube.

Then that’ll encourage them to do the math and the science because nobody is inspired by a pile of worksheets, but if they can see cool, curious examples, they might then go on and dig deeper. 

Chris: 15:06

Right. You may be on to something there, Jay, because when I think back through to it, the math itself was never a draw, but when you could make that practical example that really just captured me. So maybe there’s an opportunity with just the education system in general, to try to tie more of these practical type of examples and real world applications to really foster that, that curiosity and that willingness to, to want to learn more and the understanding behind why this is the way it is from a science technology engineering and math standpoint.

Jay: 15:38

Yeah, 100%. One of the, one of my favorite examples to use is I’ll take when I’m talking to students, I share this one with, with parents and teachers too, but just from a little bit of a different angle. But I put up this equation on my kind of presentation. I say, pop quiz what does this equal?

It’s some random equation that I just looked up on online. I don’t even know what it means and it’s, I don’t think it even really means much, but the point there is it doesn’t matter. It’s not the equation that matters is what you can do with the equation that matters. So just like you said, it’s not doing a worksheet with a bunch of, different numbers in for X to get whatever your answer is.

That’s not going to excite anyone. It’s what you can do in the real world with that equation. That’s going to encourage someone to actually learn it and dig deeper and explore beyond, what they’re required to do to graduate. 

Chris: 16:33

No doubt, man. Absolutely. And you’re being such a great mentor for so many people out there. What about you? Do you have any mentors that have helped you along the way? 

Jay: 16:42

Oh, absolutely. I’d say too many to count. I started with my parents from the beginning. My dad was always doing things outside and building things and being creative and I was always just like amazed by how he would just figure things out. 

Like he would just find a way to learn them. And that kinda got me understanding that engineering is challenging because you’re trying to do things that no one’s ever done before, but if you have a passion for it and you’re, you really want to create something, you’re going to learn how to figure it out.

And from my mom’s perspective, she’s a psychologist and works with kids in schools, some elementary school psychologist. So I was got from her, the passion for helping people and just combining those things between my parents is giving me my, what I think my real superpower is, and which is just like learning that if you help other people like your life is that much more rewarding and special.

And because of them, I got down that path, but then along the way, my parents my dad didn’t have a college education. He was military trained. My, and my mom had a college education, but it was in psychology. And so there’s a lot of people that helped me navigate the engineering world and being the first person going to study engineering in my family, not having those people that I could ask the questions to, I was able to find organizations and resources and mentors that helped me go down that path. 

And my advice to anyone that if you can’t find those people, just YouTube them. We’re in a world now where you can learn from anybody in the world. Even dead people still have YouTube videos up. So you can learn anything that you want.

And you can ask those questions on YouTube and Google and get good answers from experts. So there’s really there’s no excuses anymore. You just have to have the curiosity and drive to go and look for the answers and talk to the people that can help you get you to where you want to go. 

And anyone that has is having success, I encourage you to go back and help a few more people in those spaces, whether that’s creating videos so you can impact a lot of people, or if you’re more of a relationship kind of person, one-on-one mentoring and just a couple of students every year, it can make a huge impact.

Chris: 18:49

No doubt. Just pay it forward. Right. And just return that favor. Great. Great. So, Jay, last question about work, but, when do you find the most fulfillment or, that moment of joy? We can just hear it in your voice, how passionate you are about this topic. But when you’re in that moment where you’re feel like you’re doing what you’re called to do, what are you doing?

Jay: 19:09

Yeah, I’ve got a couple. I’ve got at night. Literally. I wish you could see this. I got goosebumps now, as you asked that question. There’s a couple that really stand out for me. One is, and I do a lot of work with First and in the robotics world. And when young people finally get their robot to do the thing that they wanted to do, and there’s just so much joy or when we do, for example, the hour of code for computer science week and they complete the level. Like when I see that excitement and joy for completing it, a scientific task. It just makes me so happy. So anytime I know that there’s a student that is, is just jazzed about what they’re able to do with the robot. That’s absolutely makes me so happy.

The other one more recently now that haven’t been able to be out at events and everything is just seeing people’s reactions to some of my science, it’s not magic. It’s science videos. Like the other day we had a small gathering or with some friends. And one of my friends brought up that I was doing these videos and showed it to their other friends and we watched it on the screen and yeah.

Just watching their mind below and reactions was the greatest. And I’ve gotten messages on social media and stuff of similar that I didn’t get to see the in person reaction, but they’re like, Oh my God, this is so crazy. I can’t believe this is actually real. And that it’s science and it’s not just some magic trick.

It just, it’s so cool that I’m able to hook them with that and encourage them to learn a little bit more and be curious. And that makes me super happy as well. 

Chris: 20:40

Well, you’re doing a great job. You hooked me as I mentioned earlier. But it’s just you have a way of just relating to people and I can feel you, I mean, you definitely have that servant leadership type heart to help others.

And it’s just, you’ve done great things, Jay. So let’s get off of work for a minute. And let’s talk about outside of Rockwell, outside of STEM and any hobbies you have? 

Jay: 21:02

Oh, absolutely. Definitely the athletic side of it. So I love American Ninja Warrior obstacle course racing. I’ve competed in Africa and Europe. The Caribbean I’ve competed all over and it’s just such an awesome sport. And what I love about it is the comradery that it’s like everyone against the course versus this team versus that team. And I feel like that’s just such a good thing for the world to celebrate other people’s successes as well.

And it’s, it’s you versus this challenge, not you versus your neighbor. So it’s just been, it’s been great and I hope that we can, I can transfer that to other aspects of my life and then just traveling. My fiance and I been going on a lot of really cool trips, not as many this year. But we’ve made it a priority to, to explore and to learn more about other cultures and challenges and other places.

And within my job role, I’ve been fortunate that Rockwell really wants to take our STEM initiatives globally. And so I have been able to go to Australia and Singapore, Brazil, Mexico. Other countries around the world, India was, it was a big eye-opener for me. And it’s awesome to see that. Although, there are a lot of differences at the core.

Like when I go to a robotics event in India versus in the United States, that passion, that excitement, the things that people and young kids are learning are all the same. And, we, we made speak a little differently or we may have different food or, and our cultures are a little different, but at the core of it, STEM is that unifying funding thing.

That’s making an impact. So it’s just been super rewarding. But whether that be my personal travel with my fiance or, or my work travel with Rockwell Automation and First and other STEM organizations. It’s just been really cool. 

Chris: 22:45

That was awesome, man. It so great. And you’ve mentioned your fiance. How about your family? You said your mom was the psychologist and you had a military dad. Are you close to them now that, do they live in your area or what can you tell us about your family man? 

Jay: 22:59

Yeah. Right now they’re not close, but they’re in Milwaukee still, but my parents are hopefully retiring soon and they’re looking at moving somewhere in Northern Florida.

Cause my sister lives in Atlanta. So there’ll be right in between my sister and I. And so that’s awesome. And we’re super close. My sister’s like my best friend and I have a really good relationship with my parents. I’m very blessed to have that. I still have all four of my grandparents and even one great-grandmother.

So in this time of COVID and separation is very difficult, but at the same time, I’m very blessed to still have so many great people in my life that were a part of me growing up and continued to be part of my inspiration. My parents sacrificed so much for me and my sister growing up. And, they came from not much at all to being able to give me and my sister everything. Just and the sacrifices that they made.

So shout out to my parents for sure. And same for my fiance and her family. And she was born and raised in Cuba. She came here when she was 14 years old, it took her a month to go from Cuba to South America all the way through Mexico. And as a Cuban, she became an American citizen right away, or, had rights to citizenship right away when she came across the border.

But just the challenges that she went through and the opportunities that she’s had. She’s also an engineer. Now she’s an industrial engineer at Accenture. And we’re just really, really blessed. And engineering has been a big piece of that for our family. 

Chris: 24:22

Right. That’s awesome, man. Thank you for sharing that with our listeners about your family. Sounds like you, you just got to a great core group of people around and that’s so important, so important. How about podcasts, YouTube channels, books, anything out there that you consume, maybe it’s not directly tied to, to work, but that you would recommend for people to check out.

Jay: 24:42

Yeah. So I’m always trying to watch different videos. I’m not the best reader, honestly, I didn’t like reading growing up. So I consume content best on YouTube and stuff. And I’m fortunate to be having grown up in this age right. Where I can go and watch videos on all kinds of different things.

I dunno if I have one specifically that stands out to me. At all, but I watch a lot of bunch of new entrepreneurship videos from Gary V is one that’s great motivational videos. I like Eric Thomas. When it comes to leadership and developing people, Simon Sinek is one of my favorites. And then I always just, Google around for like things like how to invest, then we’re buying a home right now. So like understanding those kinds of things and just be curious and go out there and listen to it. To experts in the field because there’s so much cool content out there now. 

Chris: 25:38

No doubt about it, man.  Gary V he’s one of my favorite. He’s got a lot of good content. Simon Sinek. The whole Why concept. You got great advice. Great advice for our listeners out there, man. And we do call this EECO Asks why? So we always get down to the why towards the end of the episodes. And so the why is, what’s your personal why man, what’s your passion. Speak to our listeners about that.

Jay: 26:00

Yeah, this one’s one of the more emotional ones for me. One of my best friends in high school, we were on the cross country team together. We were around the same ability level. So a lot of the training we did together. And if you’re not a distance runner, I still don’t know why I enjoy it. A lot of suffering that you do, but you do it together.

Right? We do it as a team. So it’s hard work. But when you have that kind of core family, it’s important and it’s valuable and rewarding. And he was diagnosed with leukemia my junior year, the summer of our junior year. We were a team that was definitely bound for state. And he was a very core piece of making that happen.

I didn’t know what leukemia was honestly when my my teacher, when my coach came to tell us. So I thought, he’s just not going to be there that week and he’d be back. And when I found out it was a form of blood cancer and that he was not going to be competing with us at all, it was devastating.

I was confused. I was wondering why and him and me and  why it had to happen at all. It was very emotional is, is really tough. Um, He’s now a three time cancer survivor. He’s also survived brain cancer and he’s fighting it again. He’s just an absolute inspiration. And for me, I just felt like there was nothing I could do.

And that was the hardest thing for me. And so the way I dealt with that was okay, maybe I don’t have the skillset right now to help him, but if I can inspire that the students that can solve this problem so that people don’t have to face it in the future, um, that could be huge. And. No. My biggest fear is that that solution to cancers in the mind of a young girl that is told that STEM is for boys or in the mind of a young kid who doesn’t have the access or the money to be able to pursue STEM opportunities.

And so that’s really what drives me. That’s why I try to do everything I can. With access and equity in mind and just trying to reach every single kid that I can, because you don’t know which one is going to be the one that, changes the world. So, 

Chris: 28:04

yeah, I mean, that’s probably one of the most heartfelt answers to why, Jay, that I know I’ve ever heard. And I appreciate you being, putting your heart out there the way you did for everyone to hear and understand. And I think we all, it touched us all, man. I really appreciate you taking the time with us on EECO Asks Why. The story that you shared, just the knowledge, the insight and the inspiration. So thank you so much, Jay again, for being with us here on EECO Asks Why. 

Jay: 28:33

I appreciate the opportunity and thanks for helping inspire other people as well.