Dr. Rolanda Wilkerson’s passion for cosmetic science is palpable — even over a video call. “Ten years in the making, hundreds of scientists…eight ingredients,” she exclaims, holding up a tiny woven square: the new water-activated solid Olay Cleansing Melts. “Traditional liquid cleansers can have six times more than that.”

Melts are only the latest product innovation that Dr. Wilkerson has proudly played a part in — the cosmetic chemist and scientific communications fellow for Olay has been with P&G for 20 years, specializing in skin and scalp care. In that time, she’s educated dermatologists and influencers on P&G products. Now, she’ll bring her expertise and passion to Olay’s new partnership with online education company Coursera, aimed at taking beauty novices to the next level.

The beauty brand recently launched Introduction to Cosmetic Science and Ingredients Specialization, a four-course certificate program taught by Dr. Wilkerson and a few of her colleagues that’s part of Olay’s efforts to double the number of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education) and triple the number of women of color in STEM by the year 2030.

“A lot of women and women of color may not know that cosmetic science is an option,” says Dr. Wilkerson. She feels fortunate that she earned her PhD at Louisiana State University, which actively recruited women and minorities to its chemistry department. She found a supportive cohort that inspired her advocacy for diversity in cosmetic chemistry throughout her career, and within the Coursera project in particular. “Diversity in mind [within the cosmetic industry] leads to diversity in product [which] leads to reaching a diverse audience,” says Dr. Wilkerson, who has worked on many products for textured hair. “[Olay is] recognizing the opportunity in this space and we’re just pushing it forward and being intentional about a cosmetic-science focus.”

The series of take-at-your-own-pace classes requires approximately 10 hours a week for one month. The first course, Introduction to Cosmetic and Skincare Science, covers foundational insights on the cultural significance of cosmetics and the basics of skin biology. The second, Cosmetic Formulation Science, explores the performance role of various raw materials and creating cosmetic formulas. Course three, Product Development, overviews the entire process of developing and launching a product, including guidance on sustainable choices. Course four, Quality Control and Regulatory in Cosmetic Science, gets into the all-important essentials of compliance.

Dr. Rolanda Wilkerson at a recent Olay Cleansing Melts promotional event.

To meet students where they are, Olay is offering $2 million in Coursera scholarships to students over the next three years. “The scholarships create opportunities for even more people to enter a learning space where there is growth potential,” says Dr. Wilkerson. Completing this beauty boot camp will benefit those who want to break into the industry in various roles, she says. Olay and Coursera encourage certificate-earners to highlight their achievement when applying for jobs at P&G, and Dr. Wilkerson has already encouraged students to reach out to cosmetic professionals like herself on LinkedIn.

Dr. Wilkerson hopes the courses lead aspiring inventors to jump even more eagerly into the world of beauty. “Cosmetic science is being talked about a bit more today and it’s led to people saying, ‘I have a hunger to figure out this ingredient — to go into my kitchen and make something,’ and [the Olay-Coursera platform] is their opportunity to learn about the science behind cosmetics principles like quality control and regulation.” The ideal student is “eager to understand data and science at its source,” she says.

The scientist seems a born source. “I was in STEM before STEM was a household name,” says Dr. Wilkerson. Her mother was a science and math teacher for 36 years, and her father worked at a chemical plant managing its OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations. As a child, she helped her mother create classroom bulletin boards, and she and her two younger brothers spent summers in science programs in Baton Rouge, LA. Dr. Wilkerson was also an early hairstyling and makeup enthusiast, often missing the school bus because she’d spent too long in front of the mirror. When P&G recruited her from graduate school, it was a dream come true.

Now, Dr. Wilkerson hopes other beauty obsessives’ dreams will come true as more women explore their interest in STEM.

For more information on the Olay Coursera program, please visit here.