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Olympus Mentor Program Empowers Students to Think Big at Allentown's Building 21

Months after the COVID-19 crisis forced school buildings closed in 2020, employees at Olympus Corporation of the Americas (Center Valley) were searching for safe and impactful volunteer opportunities in their community. Already an active supporter of Communities In Schools of Eastern PA (CIS) - often through in-person events and STEM field trips offered at the company's regional headquarters - Olympus connected with CIS in hopes of making a difference in new ways.

With a team of employees from the company's Emerging Professionals CAN (colleague affinity network) eager to volunteer with the community's next generation of leaders, Olympus connected with Heather Annunziata, CIS Site Coordinator at Allentown School District's Building 21 high school, where students' unique courses include skills-based curriculum and career prep. Soon, the Olympus Emerging Professionals were working closely with one of the school's teachers, helping design a months-long program that would be written into the lesson plan for a group of juniors in her Engineering and Design class.

Fast forward to February 2021 and the Olympus Emerging Professionals began the inaugural career readiness and mentor program with more than 20 students, who will learn the ins and outs of different departments at Olympus; while also working directly with Olympus mentors on an interactive project that empowers students to solve problems.

"The virtual nature of both school and work nowadays opened up a world of opportunity for us when trying to find ways to engage with our local community," said Erin Allen, Associate Procurement Manager and Olympus Emerging Professionals STEM program lead. "Building 21's unique class design presented us the perfect opportunity to think outside of the box and collaborate with their talented team. We are thrilled to introduce students to the work that Olympus does each day to make people's lives healthier, safer, and more fulfilling and look forward to seeing the outcome of their impact-based projects that aim to do the same."

With a class schedule that combines traditional teaching, virtual visits from Olympus presenters, and virtual project planning sessions with mentors, students are enjoying a comprehensive lesson in design and engineering - and the role it plays in answering some of the world's biggest questions. After having learned about the UN Global Compact's 17 Sustainable Development Goals, students were tasked with identifying a target goal and creating a product or solution that addresses the problem. Small groups of students will work with their Olympus mentors to brainstorm, create, and present their innovative solutions to Olympus executives, business leaders, school staff, and more at the end of the school year.

When they are not working on their design projects in class, students are exposed to a slate of Olympus professionals who share their expertise in business and the product life-cycle. With volunteers from their medical, life-sciences, and industrial teams, Olympus will share insights in research & development; manufacturing; supply chain management; marketing & PR; sales; data & analytics; community affairs; engineering; and more.

Word of the program's early success is spreading across Olympus corporate headquarters and beyond as more employee volunteers are excited to share their time and expertise with the Emerging Professionals CAN and Building 21. With the majority of their engineering and manufacturing centers located away from Olympus' Center Valley headquarters, the completely virtual program is allowing fresh faces an opportunity to volunteer - something that would normally be impossible because of travel constraints. Many of the program's mentors are Olympus engineers who are volunteering from the company's Boston-based locations.

Through their comprehensive approach to skills-based learning and career exploration, the Olympus and Building 21 partnership is a prime example of Communities In Schools' "Five Basics" in action - specifically Basic #4: a marketable skill to use upon graduation. By sharing their time, talents, and expertise, the Olympus Emerging Professionals CAN is giving students lessons, skills, and experience that they can carry with them as the next generation of community problem-solvers.

Check back in June 2021 for an update on the students' projects and presentations!



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