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  • Feature Story

Competing for a Better Tomorrow


November 14, 2017

Cara Gizzi knows what it’s like to stand out. As a young athlete, she was often the only girl on her basketball and baseball teams. She welcomed the adversity as “character-building” and relished the opportunity to be coached and be a part of something bigger than herself.

This competitive spirit has motivated her throughout her career as she doesn’t shy away from a challenge. It’s fitting, then, that she’s carved out a niche for herself on the UL Not for Profit team where she fosters the mentorship and development of today’s youth and tomorrow’s leaders.

As UL’s vice president of education and outreach Gizzi and her team lead a multitude of educational programs that inspire behavior changes in the areas of youth safety, health and sustainability. Whether it’s SafetySmart, a global educational program that now reaches 20 countries in 34 languages, or XplorLabs, interactive STEM learning modules for middle school classrooms, the goal is the same – to support organizations that educate kids.

According to Gizzi, youth around the globe are connected more than ever before and want to be part of positive changes in their community.  By providing some guidance and mentoring, kids can identify challenge areas and create innovative solutions.

“It’s exciting to see the enormous impact kids are having with their advocacy, entrepreneurship and creative mindset,” Gizzi said. “We’ve seen teens in India plan Road Safety awareness events, scouts in New Zealand learn new fire safety techniques and kids in Alberta, Canada build solar-powered ovens.  The opportunities are endless for collaboration and applied learning related to safety, engineering and sustainable solutions.”

But, to support these global programs and mentor kids throughout the world, UL needs help.

“UL employees around the world have contributed greatly to the growth and success of these youth education programs,” Gizzi said. “We have an incredibly devoted, loyal community of safety ambassadors who have embraced our programs and represented UL proudly in their communities across the globe.”

Gizzi’s propensity to celebrate “standouts” and inspiring leaders served as a driving factor in the development of the UL Innovative Education Award program, which recognizes innovative organizations that make positive impacts in their communities across North America. Winners receive the award funding needed to scale up their efforts, enabling them to reach more youth in their communities and share their best practices with other organizations.

In its third year, this first-of-its-kind initiative, designed by UL in partnership with the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), invests up to $250,000 annually in environmental and STEM education, sustainable communities and youth empowerment programs.

Aside from the ability to shine a spotlight on outstanding work, another benefit of the UL Innovative Education Award program is networking. Award winners, regardless of their geographic location, can learn from each other and join forces to collaborate on future projects, funding and scalable initiatives.

“I’m very proud that we can support them through mentorship, but it cuts both ways as we learn a tremendous amount from their framework and operating models. They are leading the way in innovative programming to engage youth and we are listening.  By elevating these models, we hope to support the field and our future “game changers” so they will be prepared for the global challenges ahead,” Gizzi said. “I hope our team continues to build on the success of this program and uses it as a model for the growth of existing programs.”

Before joining UL, Gizzi spent 14 years at The Walt Disney Company, managing several educational and promotional initiatives for the Disney Media Group including Disney’s collaboration with UL on the Safety Smart program. It was that program, combined with her respect for UL’s Barb Guthrie, who launched the program, that drew her to UL.

“After working with Barb for six years, I wanted to work for her and UL,” Gizzi added. “I realized it was so much more than ‘just a job’ for so many at UL, and when an opportunity presented itself, I made the move.  It was a big jump for me, but I was ready for a new challenge and wanted to be part of an organization with this noble mission.”

Gizzi graduated magna cum laude from Drew University with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science while competing as a three-sport athlete in basketball, field hockey and lacrosse. Having spent her life as a competitive athlete and wanting to better understand the business of athletics, she then earned a master’s degree in sports management from The Ohio State University.

“No matter where I’ve been, I’ve always been up for a challenge, always looked to listen and learn from others and work hard,” Gizzi noted.

“That’s my approach to life, in general—you can’t do it alone.  At UL, I feel fortunate to work with so many incredible colleagues that I learn from each day. Because of this, the education and outreach team will continue to embrace new ideas, diverse talents, challenge the norm and dream big.   We hope our work around the globe will continue to inspire action and positive change in the years to come. It’s a win-win for everyone.”