The company may be a technological force to be reckoned with, but Panasonic officials say their philanthropic bells ring nearly as loud.
That was one of the biggest takaways when Panasonic North America held its Innovation with a Purpose Day on Tuesday at their Newark headquarters, according to Alejandra Ceja, executive director of the Panasonic Foundation and Office of Corporate Social Responsibility.
“(Our) No. 1 basic business goal is contribution to society,” she said. “It’s not just a talking point or a marketing hook, it’s embedded in our 100-year history.”
Ceja said the company looks for partners that think outside the box and reach a diverse population of students.
That’s how the company came across Students 2 Science, a decade-old, East Hanover-based nonprofit learning center aimed at inspiring students to pursue careers in STEM fields.
Panasonic has supplied the nonprofit with a $1.5 million investment for its center to, as the company said, provide districtwide access to science, technology, engineering and math education for every student in Newark.
Kit Nugent, vice president of external engagement for Students 2 Science, said it’s a great partnership.
“We are now heralded as a national model in authentic STEM education and urban community development bridging the needs of the public and private sector,” she said. “We see ourselves as a convener.”
The difference between the work students do with Students 2 Science and a regular middle school science class is simple: At Students 2 Science, they work in real, state-of-the-art laboratories worth millions of dollars with real scientists.
Nugent said students learn the real-world methods of implementation while establishing connections with potential future employers and colleagues.
“Our students are there, in their lab coats and with the goggles, right next to our Ph.D. scientists, instructors and volunteers,” she said.
Ceja said you can’t be what you can’t see. That’s why these students need to see these professions, she said.
“When you see those students put on those lab coats, you can see how transformative it truly is for them,” she said.
Sponsors include, but are not limited to, Panasonic, Public Service Electric & Gas, Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Benjamin Moore. Panasonic is in year two of its partnership with Students 2 Science and Ceja said that, in year three, they are looking to connect students across the country with the virtual labs Students 2 Science uses.
“Students are part of the solutions to the future,” Nugent said.
The students that participate experience different areas of expertise, including biotechnology, organic chemistry, pharmaceutical science and, more recently, environmental science.
Questions contemplated are things such as the consequences of overpopulation, food scarcity and the need for alternative energy.
Nugent said the solutions are going to come from nowhere else but science.
Ceja said Panasonic is happy to do its part.
Since Panasonic moved its headquarters to Newark in 2013, it has given back $3.2 million to various organizations, $1.9 million in product donations and 100 laptops donated to a school in the South Ward.
It also has invested in education and talent, with $265,000 invested in K-12 initiatives in Newark, as well as $3.3 million invested at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Working with veterans
Panasonic’s philanthropic efforts go beyond education.
Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary Jessica Hodkinson and Assistant General Counsel Mark Degand discussed another one of Panasonic’s philanthropic efforts with the community, Volunteer Lawyers for Justice.
With the Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, Panasonic’s legal department does pro bono work with veterans. It has set up a veteran’s legal clinic onsite at the East Orange Veterans hospital.
Hodkinson said it does so quarterly, with Panasonic lawyers giving about two dozen veterans free legal advice on a variety of issues such as record expungement, divorce, landlord/tenant issues and child support.
Panasonic employees who are veterans accompany the legal team to speak with those they are providing counsel for.
“It sets veterans on a path forward,” Hodkinson said. “It’s in our DNA at Panasonic.”