'Just give a helping hand'
Creating opportunities: We sponsor a scholarship program that we started in 1996, and roughly over $700,000 has been awarded. It came out of a vision by the founder of the company, Om Bahethi, who is now the chairman of our board. He had a very rough time and childhood in India, and when he came to this country, he was given an opportunity. He said this country gave him a tremendous opportunity when he went to the University at Buffalo, so education has been a huge, huge priority for him, and I have continued that legacy.
Support for employees' children: Om set out to start a scholarship program for children of our employees and to give a helping hand so they can pursue their education. I think there are very few companies our size (750 employees) that do anything remotely close to what we're doing with scholarships. We have a committee that reviews the applications for the employees' children. We get 30 to 35 applications every year, and we are very proud to be able to award between $35,000 and $45,000 in scholarships per year to children of our employees.
Talented individuals: Over the years this program has evolved and expanded. Now we also fund six scholarships through the American Meteorological Society because it's related to the work we do. The AMS solicits the applications. Once they select, we fund the scholarships for the individuals. We have two scholarships through the American Institute of Physics as well. It's amazing what some of these students are accomplishing and what they're going to be doing. Sometimes the Baby Boomers like myself will say, "Are we in trouble for the future because we don't have the talent?" I don't think we need to worry. There are very talented individuals in the pipeline.
Amazing work: We also have a contract to run the NASA DEVELOP program, a 10-week program in which college students form teams and see how they can use data collected by NASA missions to improve local communities through the data they have, whether it's agriculture or water resource management, whatever the need may be. Om and I were amazed at the work these students do, and we started with one scholarship, and I have increased the funding to three scholarships to the NASA DEVELOP program, too.
Recruiting and retention aid: This was never intended or designed as a recruiting or retention program. But it kind of has become that, because I know our employees, if they have a child who is going to enter college the next year or maybe already is in college, they see that this is an additional benefit that the company is providing.
—As told to Ken Tysiac (firstname.lastname@example.org), a JofA editorial director.