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HSNW conversation with Lisa D. Mondello"Keeping America a technological leader": SRC's STEM-supporting initiatives

Published 8 July 2015

SRC, Inc., an R&D company which was established in 1957, has its roots in academia. It regards science, technology, engineering & math (STEM) as the foundation of its business. Over the past decade there have been numerous reports about how the U.S. ranking in science and mathematics education has been declining. There has also been a drop in the number of students majoring in STEM fields. Around 2007, SRC developed its philanthropic focus areas as a way to direct its resources to areas where the company could have the most impact. One of these focus areas is STEM. HSNW talked with Lisa D. Mondello, director of corporate communications and PR at SRC, about the company’s STEM-related initiatives.

HSNW: A brief history of SRC’s involvement with STEM-related projects — when was the decision made at SRC to begin and fund STEM projects — and why was that decision made?

Lisa Mondello: SRC is an R&D company that started in 1957 and our roots are based in academia. Science, Technology, Engineering & Math are the foundation of our business. In order to continue innovating, we need a highly technical workforce to deliver the best products and services to our customers. Over the past decade, there have been numerous reports about how the U.S. ranking in science and mathematics education has been declining. There has also been a drop in the number of students majoring in STEM fields. We recognize that in order to keep our business successful, we needed to get involved and help increase the interest in STEM careers. Around 2007, SRC developed our philanthropic focus areas (STEM, military, and United Way) as a way to direct our resources to areas where we could have the most impact. We also have an internal “STEM Speakers” bureau and STEM committee made up of employees that volunteer to assist in promoting STEM in the community. Our focus areas are important to our employees and they see the value in helping to keep America a technological leader. As a result, the company continues to fund things important to our employees so the positive cycle in supporting STEM continues to expand.

HSNW: How involved is SRC monitoring STEM projects and initiatives it funds? Are the organizations receiving SRC funding required to file progress reports? Does SRC personnel evaluate project performance?

LM: Working with many community partners near our offices across the country, we have greatly evolved our STEM initiatives (http://www.srcinc.com/about/philanthropy/stem-education.html). These efforts include: STEM scholarships, “STEM Connection” program for college students, STEM Career Exploration Series, an afterschool Engineering camp (in conjunction with Syracuse University and University of Texas), sponsoring local robotics and Olympiad clubs, hosting “Teacher in the STEM workplace” events, Nature in the City program, the MOST and Boonshoft Science museums, and a math-based corporate campus academic mentoring program (CCAMP) held at our corporate offices. Our collaborations have formed close relationships that allow us to monitor and keep informed about the programs we fund. More often, we participate directly in events or assist as consultants to those that execute. An internal committee decides what new initiatives to fund, and our community relations group reviews program reports to determine if adjustments are needed before additional funding is given the following year.

HSNW: Is SRC involved with other companies — especially high-tech, defense contractors — in an industry-driven “coalition” effort to promote STEM education?

LM: We work with many companies and organizations in Central New York to promote STEM. We chair the Central New York Technology Sector and are a member of the CNY STEM Hub. We also support many activities (Science Fairs, school career days, STEM days, technology “challenge” events, etc.) across the country because we have offices throughout the U.S. One of our greatest achievements to date is taking the lead and working with our partners to create the cnystem.com website. This is meant to be a one-stop shop for students, parents, teachers and businesses to share information about STEM programs and initiatives.

HSNW: Does SRC focus solely on the early years of education, or are some of SRC-funded STEM-related programs directed at college and graduate school students — perhaps even post-graduate internships?

LM: We realize that creating interest in STEM disciplines needs to begin in the early years of education. However, with limited resources, we primarily focus on middle and high school students. We do have some programs that relate to college level and beyond, as well as the elementary level. The SRC STEM Scholars program (scholarships and internships to college students) as well as the LCS-SRC Engineering Ambassadors Program with Syracuse University are a few examples of programs we support for students in higher education.

HSNW: Is there a direct correlation between SRC’s needs (say, for more computer engineers) and STEM funding decisions, or are the activities of SRC in the field more diffuse and generalized, aiming to elevate the level of science education more generally?

LM: It is difficult to make a direct correlation between many of the STEM programs we fund and hiring. However, we strongly believe that increasing interest in STEM majors will lead to more qualified applicants for STEM careers. Many times, we find that students are just unaware of what an engineering, scientific, programming, etc. career means. Explaining the knowledge needed, the activities completed in a day of work, and assisting with scholarships or events to help a student achieve success is making great stride to having future STEM applicants.

Lisa D. Mondello is Director, Corporate Communications & PR at SRC, Inc.