STEM Woman Leader of the Day- Joan Kelly (MasterCard)
Submitted by Tommy Cornelis on September 7, 2012
Joan Kelly is group executive, Software Development, and leads the development of global transaction processing services for MasterCard. With MasterCard for more than 22 years, she was named to U.S. Banker magazine’s Top 25 Nonbank Women in Finance in 2008/ 2009; and one of Bank Technology News’ Innovators in Financial Services in 2008. She is a board member of the Center for the Application of Information Technology, St. Louis CIO Board of Applications, Fontbonne University. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She earned a B.S. in mathematics from Washington Universityin St. Louis.
Why do you believe STEM Education and Workforce are important to our nation?
It’s clear that theUnited Stateshas a lot of opportunity to grow our skills in the area of STEM studies.
We need teachers who are skilled at these areas to share that enthusiasm with children, as early as elementary school, so that they develop both an interest and affection for these areas of study early on in their scholastic careers. I’ve read numerous studies that show if they see the support and interest in school, and if students can count on their parents to encourage and help them with their advanced math and science studies, the better the students feel about continuing to take courses in these fields as they navigate through high school and college. These students are more apt to choose these fields as majors, as well.
We need to continue to support not only schools, but external organizations that help develop interests in these areas of study, to continue to whet students’ appetites for math, science and technology. You see how savvy kids can be when it comes to the latest phones, tablets, computers, etc. – they’re hungry for these types of skills! We have to continue to place equal importance to the ‘athletics of the mind’ as we do to traditional athletic programs.
What traits do senior leaders need to effectively support and advance STEM today?
I’m the first one to recognize that these skills can be challenging. But, as leaders, you have to encourage perseverance of your team members. Just because these skills are harder to learn, doesn’t mean people should be afraid of them.
Leaders need to encourage the initiative that people demonstrate to grow their STEM, and support them throughout the process. And, as leaders, we need to practice what we preach – and think about what we’re doing to continue to grow our own skills in the STEM space, and support the interests of students in these areas.
What principles do you, as a leader; apply to your professional and personal life to advance the STEM cause?
For me, lifelong learning has always been a focus. I’m never content with resting on my laurels – especially in the areas of STEM, when things can shift so rapidly. So, I make time to attend educational sessions, training, and other events to help grow my own skills in this space.
I’m lucky that my company sees the value of supporting STEM, and a lot of the volunteer opportunities that we offer employees tie to this. As a leader, I encourage my team members to volunteer with organizations like For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST), Junior Achievement (JA), and others. A lot of times, it’s opportunities like these that help us develop our own skills in ways we didn’t even consider when signing up to volunteer. By teaching and mentoring others, you learn a lot yourself.
And, I look for ways to help guide the careers and education of new students in the STEM fields. I am a member of a local college board, and serve on their technology committee. Between the two roles, and with the knowledge I bring from my job in the technology space, my fellow board members and I help to shape the technology infrastructure at the college to position students for the best learning experience, as well as provide insight into the latest developments and needs in the STEM fields. Doing so positions the students in the best way possible to be able to get a job once they graduate, and helps them feel more confident about being able to make significant contributions to the organization that they join right away.
And, I’d like to stress the role that mentoring should play in your career. Early on, you certainly benefit from conversations and guidance from more seasoned professionals. Each one of us should remember the positive impact and the key learnings that came out of these discussions, and look to do the same as you advance in your own careers. Whether that’s mentoring students, new employees, or employees with a bit more experience who may be looking to enhance their careers, take the time to establish these relationships. It will absolutely benefit the mentee – and you’ll get a lot out of it as well!
Who is your STEM role model and why?
My STEM role model is my sister, Mary Abkemeier.
Mary has been a mathematics professor/math program manager at a local university for more than 34 years, making sure that students have access and develop and interest in higher math skills, as well as technology. In her role, she teaches both undergraduate math classes, as well as classes in the Master's Program in Computer Education.
And, she’s evolved her teaching style through the years. When more and more students began asking for courses to be available online, she stepped up and developed programming in this space. She has taught online courses in math and technology since 2000.
Her colleagues and others in the industry have recognized her efforts. She has received the Fontbonne Excellence in Teaching award two times, as well as the Outstanding Post-secondary Mathematics Teacher Award from Mathematics Educators of St. Louis.
Watching Mary encourage students, teachers and parents alike to enjoy and develop their math and technology skills is truly inspirational. She’s responsible for guiding many to the STEM fields throughout her career – and theSt. Louisarea is much better in this space because of her contributions.
How is your company innovating to promote STEM?
MasterCard is doing a lot to promote STEM, both internally and externally.
Internally, we’re hiring a number of recent college graduates who are strong in the STEM studies. We like the idea of bringing fresh ideas in to the company, and the enthusiasm and energy that recent graduates provide.
In addition, we have a healthy internship program, targeted at rising juniors with STEM-focused majors. Students are engaged from May – August, and are engaged in technology projects in different parts of the MasterCard organization to learn more about the business.
On an external basis, we support a number of organizations that have STEM skills as their target space. We are sponsors and provide volunteers as mentors, judges, and general support for regional and international competitions for the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology (FIRST) organization. Hundreds of volunteers teach the Junior Achievement curriculum that is based in financial literacy, math education, and entrepreneurism each year to area schools that without our volunteers wouldn’t be able to receive the benefits of this strong program. In addition, we support programs that enhance professional development opportunities for math teachers, knowing that the more educated math teachers are in what’s new in this field, they more confident they are in teaching these new skills to their students, and helping to generate interest in the STEM subjects overall.