Company-Funded Scholarships Provide Return on Investment

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Your Dollars at Work

Company-Funded Scholarships Provide Return on Investment

Science Systems and Applications, Incorporated, adds two SPS scholarships to its commitment to fund STEM students


Tara Davis, Development Manager, American Institute of Physics

 Long before the words became a trendy catchphrase, Science Systems and Applications, Incorporated (SSAI) began “paying it forward” by offering scholarships to promising college students. To date, the company has awarded well over $700,000 in scholarship money in a wide array of fields. This year, this includes two new Society of Physics Students (SPS) scholarships to those funded by SSAI.

Two undergraduate physics majors, both active members of SPS, were the recipients of these newest scholarship offerings sponsored by SSAI.

SSAI provides scientific research and development, engineering, and information analytics services for Earth and space science disciplines. Om P. Bahethi, now chairman of the board, founded the company 37 years ago with his wife, Saraswati Bahethi, now principal owner, corporate secretary, and treasurer.

As the company grew, gaining business and name recognition, its executive leadership decided to made good on a desire to offer help and opportunities to students in recognition of the help they themselves had once received.

“It really goes back to the founder,” said Anoop N. Mehta, SSAI president. “He got a chance to come to this country. Someone gave him the opportunity to come to this country and study.”

Kareem WahidThis year SPS member Kareem Wahid, a junior at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (formerly University of Texas Pan-American), received the $2,000 SSAI Underrepresented Student Scholarship. The scholarship, he said, “Is definitely a big tuition help.”

Wahid, who is majoring in physics and mathematics, helped revitalize his SPS Chapter. The chapter grew from three members to the current 20, with Wahid as its president.

The university’s surrounding community, the Rio Grande Valley, is largely underserved. Science and technology are not common topics in local public school settings. Wahid’s SPS chapter is working to change that. “I feel like we are making a positive impact on my community,” he said. “We are potentially influencing younger students to pursue science careers.”

Wahid, who is eyeing a spring 2016 graduation and plans to apply to medical school, said his parents have always encouraged his desire to learn more about science and medicine. He wants more minority students to consider those fields.

Helen MeskhidzeHelen Meskhidze just began her senior year at Elon University, where she is pursuing a double major in physics and philosophy. She is the first recipient of SSAI’s Academic Scholarship. She said the $2,000 scholarship provides a financial safety net. “It’s great,” she said. “It enables me to have backup while I’m at school.”

Like Wahid, Meskhidze hopes to see an increase in the number of students studying physics, in particular, women.“I do find the challenges of women in physics interesting…It’s an issue that can’t be dismissed.”
Every once in a while, she hears an off-handed remark from a male counterpart expressing an inappropriate view of women. She doesn’t let it pass. “As women, we have to speak up for ourselves,” says Meskhidze. “I am comfortable with [speaking up] so most of the time I do.”

She finds support from her parents (her father has a physics degree, and her mother teaches humanities), as well as from her department. “I’m very fortunate that my professors are very supportive.”

Meskhidze has also connected with communities outside her university. She has attended two conferences designed for women pursuing professional careers and plans to attend others. She encourages other females interested in scientific fields to look for support from SPS and groups specifically designed for women, and to pursue funding and awards. As for women in science, “It’s always better to have more,” she said.

Mehta said that since SSAI began offering scholarship and internship programs in 1996, the number of applications has increased. “I see more women,” he said. “I see more diversity.”

Compared to applicants in the 1990s, the students today “have more broad views,” he said. “They are more open in their thinking. I think students are more engaged in the community.” One student, he said, testified before a state legislature on the harmful effects of fracking. Another testified before a state legislature on the dangers of concussions in sports. “These are 20, 21, 22 year-olds who are making an impact.”

In 2015 SSAI awarded 41 scholarships. Many alumni keep in touch with SSAI. Some even return to SSAI as employees.

“We are very proud of the programs we offer,” Mehta said. “It’s always gratifying to see the return on investment over time when supporting young men and women.”

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