High school freshman Isaac Palomar stopped by Gatorade’s Mission Control, the company’s digital and social media command center, at PepsiCo headquarters in Chicago last Monday. There, in a room lined with posters of famous athletes, he learned about the history of the sports drink, the science behind its development, the engineering it takes to get the product on shelves — and the social media used to understand how the product is currently being consumed. “It was fascinating because they gather so much data from all over the world,” Palomar said. “They know exactly when you posted and who it was that posted.”

Over 300 students in grades 8-11 visited PepsiCo offices in Illinois, Texas and New York during the week of Oct. 19. The students were participating in Career Accelerator Week (CAW), a STEMconnector® initiative that encourages companies and organizations across the United States to open their doors to young people interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The goal for CAW is to expose young talent — especially under-served populations — to career possibilities afforded by a STEM education.

PepsiCo focused on offering these students hands-on experiences — a wide array of activities designed to demonstrate how varied STEM careers can be, even in one company. “We’re trying to get these high school students excited,” said Nancy Moriarity, a PepsiCo Research and Development director based in Barrington. “This is a great way to promote STEM education with career applications in mind.”
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PepsiCo employees spent the week working with the students, showing them how their own careers evolved from STEM degrees. In Barrington, Illinois, students tested Gatorade formulations and did a Quaker Chewy bar experiment and data analysis. They also toured the Analytical Chemistry, Sensory Sciences, Gatorade Sports Science Institute and Package Testing labs. In New York, students attended sessions to learn what packaging scientists, flavor chemists, process engineers and other specialists do at PepsiCo. And in Texas, students learned how emerging technologies like Digimart, Apple Watch, Double, iBeacon, Google Glass and 3D scanners and printers are important to PepsiCo’s products.

CAW events are open to parents and teachers who wish to accompany their students. “We look at the parents and educators to provide guidance, encouragement and motivation,” said Erica Chapman, Sr. director of Human Resources for Global Snacks R&D and PepsiCo’s CAW lead. “I bet most parents and teachers will be surprised by the types of careers you can have in STEM at PepsiCo.” Leticia Hernandez, assistant principal at John Hancock College Preparatory High School, attended the Chicago event. “The whole thing is about making sure kids know their options,” she said. “I wanted these younger kids to see what different careers can evolve from this.”

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Career Accelerator Week was designed to introduce students to the vast array of opportunities available in STEM careers. After all, soon 71 percent of all jobs will require STEM skills. But Career Accelerator events also provide an immense benefit to companies in return. PepsiCo views talent sustainability as a key component of its strategic vision. As PepsiCo — and indeed the world — becomes increasingly dependent on technology, it is imperative to encourage the next generation of workers to pursue STEM degrees. And it is just as important to make sure these students are aware that PepsiCo, with its array of brands they have likely known since childhood, represents a powerful career option as they enter STEM fields.

“I think one of the biggest opportunities we have now is that some of these children don’t have mentors or exposure to what STEM means or what types of jobs they could get,” said Maria Velissariou, R&D vice president for PepsiCo’s nutrition category. “Just showing them our jobs, the building and the whole atmosphere is inspirational.”

PepsiCo, which participated last year in the pilot Career Accelerator Day, aims to go global with its CAW events in the near future. Plans are already in place for a Career Accelerator Day in Mexico City and a virtual Career Accelerator Day. Whether in the U.S., abroad or virtual, PepsiCo is focusing on developing a sustainable connection with CAW alumni who attended their events. “We need a talent pipeline of STEM degrees for the future,” Chapman says. “There is not one area in PepsiCo that doesn’t have some sort of STEM need. That’s the way the world is these days.”

And now that several hundred students know just how many fun STEM careers are available at PepsiCo, there’s a chance they may be showing up at headquarters again somewhere down the line. “By the year 2020, PepsiCo is going to need 50,000 workers,” Palomar said. “I want to study for that and help out.”