How volunteering in STEM makes a meaningful difference
Giving back to the communities where our employees live and work is an important part of who Baxter is as a company. This includes empowering and engaging our employees in volunteerism. One of the Baxter International Foundation's priorities, Fostering Tomorrow's Innovation through STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Education, offers employees the opportunity to give back by sharing their expertise. Since 2013, the Foundation has supported the Illinois Science and Technology Institute (ISTI)'s annual STEM Challenge – a six-month program where high school students partner with STEM professionals to create and build innovative solutions to address real-world industry challenges.
We caught up with three Baxter employees who volunteered as mentors for Round Lake High School during the 2019-2020 school year, as well as the school's STEM Challenge educator, to learn more about how they hope this experience inspired students – and how the students in turn inspired our employees.
What motivated you to participate as an ISTI STEM Challenge mentor?
"Mentorship was something I missed out on in my career. Early on, I had many stumbling moments where I was forced to learn things the hard way. I want to share my experiences so that younger people can make new mistakes, not repeat the same ones I did! It was a fantastic experience to see the enthusiasm in these students. Young people are often hungry for knowledge and will soak up the information you share with them. Interacting with this group was very rewarding for me." – Anna Nowak, a senior manager of operational excellence and an engineer by training
What do you hope your mentee group gained from the experience?
"I loved being able to ask questions that prompted our group to think about the project in a different way – how an engineer would. I could see the wheels turning in their minds as we encouraged them to see the challenge from a different perspective. I hope I helped them learn more about the engineering process, and how engineers approach problems or situations in a unique way." – Sarah Mathiot, a manager of engineering
What was your favorite part about volunteering as a mentor?
"Watching the students digest our advice, learn, ask questions and experience trial and error. It gives me goosebumps thinking back, how cool it was to have a personal connection with these students who were truly so eager to learn. It was inspiring, and the experience reminded me of a physics teacher I had in high school who recognized my science skills and encouraged me to pursue them. Sometimes all you need is an adult to demonstrate that they believe in you to truly believe in yourself." – Erin Lundtveit, a senior director of program management for research & development
Why is it important for your students to participate in this program?
"I look at students that have been working with the Baxter program and know they have the potential to make the world a better place. They are hardworking young men and women. We just have to remind them that if you haven’t been exposed to something, you don’t know how far you can go. The ISTI STEM Challenge gives students a glimpse into the vast world of STEM and helps demonstrate how they can be a part of it." – Charlie Adkins, Teacher, Round Lake High School
ISTI is a STEM-focused nonprofit that provides programs and partnerships to connect companies with classrooms and impact the next generation of innovators to build a stronger, more inclusive talent pipeline in Illinois. Interested in learning more about ISTI’s work? Click here.