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STEM Challenges Prove Valuable for Mentors as Well As for Students

Corporate partners are part of the team for a Cybersecurity solution.

Published December 03, 2020

By Roger Torda

STEM Challenges Prove Valuable for Mentors as Well As for Students
Rasmus Häggkvist (Cybercastle Team Lead)

Rasmus Häggkvist (Cybercastle Team Lead)

Jill Gundlach (Cybercastle Team Mentor)

Jill Gundlach (Cybercastle Team Mentor)

Students around the world say they find tremendous value in participating in Challenges run by the New York Academy of Sciences’ Global STEM Alliance. But so, too, do mentors and sponsors.

By the end of 2020, the Academy will have run six Challenges in the course of the year.  Several were co-designed by corporate partners, including the “Cybersecurity in the Age of IoT Challenge,” which was created with the S&P Global Foundation. Twenty-five employees from S&P Global served as mentors to student teams.

S&P Global’s sponsorships of Academy Challenges date back to 2017. Swamy Kocherlakota, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer for the company and an executive champion for the program, explained why S&P Global participates:

In a world that is more and more dependent on technology, we know that helping people develop vital STEM skills builds a stronger workforce and sustainable communities and economies. We’re proud that S&P Global employees continue to share their skills with the next generation by coaching them to develop their STEM skills in solving real world problems.

A team calling itself Cybercastle won the Cybersecurity in the Age of IoT Challenge, with a system that uses blockchain technology to encrypt medical records. Team lead Rasmus Häggkvist, from Norrbotten, Sweden, described his criteria for forming a team using Launchpad, saying he “was looking for kind, organized, diligent, and prudent perfectionists.” He found them in all corners of the world, including India, Morocco, Canada and the Philippines.

The Cybercastle team: Rasmus Häggkvist, Sneha Pullanoor, Ouahib Timoulali, Subaita Rahman, Ma. Rizza Cerilles, and Max Kenning.

The Cybercastle team: Rasmus Häggkvist, Sneha Pullanoor, Ouahib Timoulali, Subaita Rahman, Ma. Rizza Cerilles, and Max Kenning.

The team’s mentor was Jill Gundlach, a Denver-based project manager with S&P Global’s Digital Technology Services organization. “This was my first time participating in a GSA Challenge and I had a great time,” Gundlach said. “A major factor contributing to the team’s success was their desire to provide a real-world solution to a challenge that would be relevant today. Each team member was very eager to contribute.”

Gundlach continued:

I think they learned two important things in this challenge. First, how to work with team members in different countries. Using a couple of different communication channels allowed them to assign tasks and follow through to make sure the challenge was completed. Second was how to adjust when life gets crazy. COVID-19 put a new twist on getting work completed. All of the team members were in school, so this added a level of complexity. I feel the team did a great job of focusing on the challenge even during the uncertainty of COVID.

Gundlach said she, too, benefited from the experience:

Being a project manager, you get to work with a variety of personalities.  It was very refreshing and insightful to work with young adults. Their thought processes and questions are very different than those of someone who has been in technology for many years. This gave me a new experience in managing a team, one that I feel will allow me to look at projects from a different perspective and allow me to be a better project manager. I would definitely do this again and will recommend this mentor opportunity to others within S&P Global.

Annette O’Hanlon, Chief Corporate Responsibility & Diversity Officer for S&P Global, agreed that employees benefit in a number of ways from mentorship opportunities through the GSA Challenge. “By participating in the Challenge, our employees have the opportunity to engage in meaningful, skills-based volunteer activities,” O’Hanlon said. “Our colleagues who have participated note increased satisfaction and self-confidence, improvement of their own professional skill set, and an elevated sense of purpose.”

O’Hanlon noted that the Global STEM Alliance Innovation Challenges align closely with S&P Global’s Corporate Responsibility goals, which include a deep commitment to closing gaps around the world in STEM skills:

The students who participated in the Challenge develop important abilities that equip them for the global workforce – working collaboratively, engaging with colleagues in other countries, working remotely, data analysis, and presentation skills. We know that talent pools are expected to show more and more tech literacy as there are skill gaps in the areas of AI, machine learning, and augmented reality, and we’re proud to support students in developing in those critical areas.

O’Hanlon added there were additional benefits for S&P Global:

We are also able to engage students around the world – our future workforce – on real-world topics that are important to our business and to our customers, like artificial intelligence and cybersecurity.

Click here for a news about other 2020 Global STEM Alliance Challenge winners.