Inspiring Tomorrow's Visionaries
Ashok Vemuri and the Infosys USA Foundation place a premium on promoting STEM.
Ashok Vemuri's professional achievements are no small feat. But he insists that neither were his mentors' roles in helping him arrive at where he is today: the Head of Americas and Global Head of Financial Services & Insurance at Infosys, where he also serves as a member of the board.
"In my career, I have benefited from being mentored by some key individuals," says Vemuri, who in 2008 was selected by Business Today as one of India's 25 Hottest Young Executives, and the following year was elected to the Forum of Young Global Leaders by the World Economic Forum. "And I also make it a priority to offer advice and support to our employees under the aegis of the Infosys Leadership Institute."
It turns out that Vemuri's support and advice, and that of Infosys, extends well beyond the company's hallowed halls. In 2010, a passionate conversation between Infosys Co-Founder and Executive Co-Chairman S. (Kris) Gopalakrishnan and Academy President and CEO Ellis Rubinstein about the value of mentors, led to the Infosys USA Foundation's first U.S. grant, which went to the New York Academy of Sciences to help seed its Afterschool STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Mentoring Program.
Infosys' involvement, Vemuri explains, enabled the company and its foundation to support "exploration and hands-on learning opportunities" for underprivileged students under the guidance of highly-skilled mentors—graduate students and post-docs who have successfully applied and trained to become Academy Education Fellows. Infosys employees find ways to get directly involved too; those who hold engineering degrees or Masters in science and math volunteer their time to engage students with cutting-edge subjects like robotics or space science, as well as the perennially vital fields of biology or earth science.
The first year of the Afterschool Mentoring Program was an enormous success, placing more than 120 mentors in 84 after-school and summer programs across all five boroughs of New York City. More than 2,100 elementary and middle school children benefited as a result and, Vemuri notes, the program continues to satisfy the Infosys USA Foundation's mission of "fulfilling the social responsibility of the company by creating opportunities and working toward a more equitable society."
Clearly, the Afterschool Mentoring Program, which initially partnered with the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, is a win-win. The program is central to the Academy's K-12 Education Initiative and its goal of encouraging higher achievement both in and out of the classroom with respect to STEM.
Fortunately, the Infosys USA Foundation was just getting started. The Foundation, which is financed by up to 1 percent of Infosys' annual profits, recently expanded its challenge grant to the Academy to include a New Jersey partnership with the national non-profit organization Citizen Schools, effectively extending the Afterschool Program's influence to low-income students in Newark via $50,000 in additional funding, bringing the cumulative total to $350,000.
The additional funding support from the Infosys USA Foundation will allow the Academy to recruit, train, and support 30 new mentors in the 2011-2012 school year. The Afterschool Program will provide 180 hours of hands-on after-school activities for 450 fourth- through eighth-graders in New Jersey, as well as extend Academy membership to at least 300 teachers in the state.
Meghan Groome, director, K-12 Science Education and Science & the City at the Academy, commended Infosys for its commitment to STEM, and said the company's involvement would "catalyze other funders to take action"—which is imperative to furthering the Academy's mission of impacting as many young lives as possible.
"In today's times when fewer students are graduating from high school than ever before, as responsible adult citizens of society, it is important for us to retain students in school beyond regular hours," Vemuri says of Infosys' decision to scale its involvement with the Academy's Afterschool STEM Mentoring Program. He notes that participating students are immersed in subject areas that are "core to our business at Infosys."
Naturally, Vemuri is pleased to have had a role in the Afterschool Program's success, and he hopes the program continues to have an influence, churning out the next generation of science, technology, engineering, and math visionaries. "We are proud of our association with the Academy and the STEM Mentoring Program," Vemuri says. "For me personally, it has been very satisfying to see the program surpass its goals."
Noah Rosenberg is a journalist in New York City.