The expertise required to cultivate crops, transport raw materials, transform raw ingredients into nutritious food and beverage products, then distribute them globally makes PepsiCo and other Food & Beverage companies hugely reliant on STEM talent.  That’s why PepsiCo has emerged as one of the nation’s leading proponents of STEM education for young people—the next generation of PepsiCo talent.

Working with universities, governments, and non-governmental organizations worldwide, we are championing innovative programs designed to introduce young people to the amazing STEM-related career opportunities available in the F&B industry and attract more women and minorities to STEM careers.  

Recently, we caught up with Dr. Mehmood Khan, PepsiCo Vice Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer, Global R&D, to learn more about PEP’s newest commitment:  a major grant to the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS), one of the most significant organizations in the international scientific community.  

1. What prompted PepsiCo to support the NYAS’ new “Junior Academy”?

Once we learned that NYAS was creating a program for exceptional students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), we wanted to support their efforts to develop next-generation STEM talent.  Through the PepsiCo Foundation, we pledged $1 million in support.

2. What, specifically, is PepsiCo doing to support the NYAS’ Junior Academy?

In the first phase of the 3-year grant, 250 secondary school students from underserved populations in the U.S. will be selected to participate in this newly created program, which is run on a social learning platform. These students will progress through a selection of curricula and challenges developed specifically for The Junior Academy.

As a way to apply their learnings, students can participate in a 60-day “PepsiCo Innovation Challenge,” focused on the problem of food loss, which will ask students to seek inventive ways to cut down on waste in the food chain, from production to household consumption. The students will research, design and work to identify solutions to this global problem, mentored by PepsiCo employees in various STEM functions. 

3. Why is PepsiCo interested in cultivating next-generation STEM talent?

At PepsiCo, we help feed the world.  Today, more than one billion servings of our products are consumed a day.  Tomorrow, we expect to offer even more enjoyable and nutritious foods and beverages to more people, in more places, engendering more trust worldwide.  To accomplish this, we must attract and retain world-class STEM talent.  Our efforts to develop next-generation STEM talent today will help our company flourish tomorrow.

4. We hear about a shortage of STEM professionals.  How serious is the problem?

Employers here in the U.S. continue to struggle to fill 26 million STEM-related jobs with a limited supply of qualified candidates.  We have experienced similar STEM talent shortages in many of the 200+ countries where we do business.   As a result, we believe in investing in the development of next-generation STEM talent.  

5. How is STEM excellence critical to the future of PepsiCo? 

Innovation is the engine of economic growth for our company.  STEM professionals, in particular, are major enablers of this growth at PepsiCo.   By supporting the NYAS’ Junior Academy and organizations like STEMconnector®, we are future-proofing the company.  Five, 10 or 20 years from now, the emerging talent we’re supporting and grooming today will be driving innovation and topline growth at PepsiCo.

6. Is there one particular “branch” of STEM talent that PepsiCo relies upon more than others?

We rely on every STEM discipline to drive our growth at PepsiCo—and in fact are expanding our reliance on STEM expertise.  Our product offerings are now more diverse because the people developing them come from truly diverse professional and technical backgrounds. In recent years, PepsiCo recruited scientific talent no one ever expected to see inside a traditional food and beverage company.  In my own case, I was trained as an endocrinologist.  And our R&D team includes experts in areas such as agronomy, exercise physiology, metabolomics, rheology, computational analysis, nutrition science – to name a few.  This is in addition to the traditional food and beverages science skills we have relied upon for decades to bring great products to market.  

7. Are you a mentor to STEM talent inside PepsiCo and what is your view of mentorship? 

Administrative and executive duties notwithstanding, my job at PepsiCo, fundamentally, is to mentor.  My job is to create a framework in which R&D associates and our Sustainability teams can flourish, to unleash talent by providing guidance and counsel when requested (or required), to give people the tools they need to succeed, and most importantly, to dare the team to create solutions to problems conventional wisdom said were insoluble.