Pre-COVID, a Mars Ambassador Program participant might have spent a week building animal shelters or completed a stint planting cacao trees. Today's participants are creating just as much value, but in creative and often remote ways.
Matt Diiusto spent four intensive weeks as an Ambassador assigned to Rozalia Project, a non-profit that works to clean and protect the ocean, but he never even got his hands wet. Instead, he designed and created a new debris data analysis tool to track trash being removed from marine systems, then sorted and loaded nearly 1 million data points into it.
One of the first data clusters he noticed was that among the top trash items found in our waterways are food wrappers. Matt’s day job – as an Engineer in Packaging Development for Mars Wrigley R&D North America – prepared him for this reality. But seeing it on paper really brought the point home.
“This proved that our Sustainable in a Generation goals are still just as important and relevant as ever,” he said. “I’m more conscious of marine debris issues now, both as a consumer and as a Packaging Engineer. I learned about the consequences of microfibers in our oceans and the ways I can combat these problems, something that was very new information for me. I can’t wait to share my learnings with members of my packaging team.”
We sat down with Matt to learn about his virtual assignment, which he said was every bit as impactful as the live-action option.
How did this experience, despite COVID, still have (and make) an impact?
The experience truly put a positive mark on my professional career and personal life. Building the marine debris analysis tool required a ton of additional learning and research on my part. I had a vision of what I wanted to accomplish with the tool and was elated to find out from [Rozalia co-founders] Ashley and Rachael that it exceeded their expectations. This will streamline their analyses and take their abilities to the next level as they tell the story of their trash clean-ups and drive solutions to fix these issues. As for me, I’ll definitely take my increased Excel proficiency, and new tricks and tools I taught myself back to my current job.
What was the most unexpected, yet still meaningful, experience of your assignment?
When my family and I performed our own beach clean-up in support of my assignment, I wasn’t sure that I was going to find any trash. But I ended up finding almost 30 pieces of trash within half of an hour. I didn’t realize just how real this trash in our waterways is – after my assignment it’s all I look for now!
What advice would you give future Ambassadors about this assignment or about MAP overall?
I will definitely be applying as soon as I can for an in-person MAP Assignment. I got so much out of my individual, virtual assignment – I can’t even imagine how much I would get out of a group, in-person experience! But even if travel becomes an option for 2022, I think there are still opportunities to continue virtual experiences. I’d encourage any future Ambassadors to put their full 110% into the assignment because you truly do get out what you put in. And try to learn about the partner organization as much as possible because their work is amazing.
Any parting thoughts?
I had a blast working with a non-profit and seeing the similarities and differences between it and our large corporation. Ashley and Rachael were amazing partners to work with and I am glad to have made two connections (and friends) for life. Thank you to Rozalia Project and to Mars for giving me the opportunity to take part in such a unique experience