Ellen Lambert is the Chief Diversity Officer at PSEG. In this interview, Ms. Lambert reflects on the critical challenges facing our world and our communities, the role of science in coming up with solutions, and the integral role of a good education system.
As citizens we will face many challenges including scientific ethical dilemmas, limited resources, sustainable lifestyles, and last but not least, saving the planet. What do you see as critical challenges facing our world?
We live in a very, very complex world. It is complex on a global level, it is complex on a national level, and it is complex on a city level. And the issues are historic traditions, social behaviors, geographic issues, climate, (and) population issues. So I think the solutions, many of them, exist in this idea of innovative thinking and technology. Because perhaps the one thing that connects all of us, whether we live in vulnerable communities or very wealthy communities, are the technologies – (the technology of) cell phones, the connection of the internet. And technology is a way into it. The other thing that technology does is that it actually gives you the opportunity to test hypotheses. When you have an understanding of science, you can begin to really look at where the answers might be, in a deeper way. So it answers theoretical questions. And the complexity of the world is really about theoretical questions.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing Newark that are related to science and why? How do you believe science would alleviate them?
Newark has become an area of tremendous growth, growth in industry, growth in population, and growth in cultural mix. When you have growth in the way that Newark keeps growing, you need to understand how science can benefit the city- how science can bring all of us together, how science can speed up the way we move through the city, the way we do healthcare in a city, and the way we help people in crowded cities. There is a program that MIT did in India – it was called Kumbh Mela, a festival that millions of people attended. What they looked at were the large scale planning problems that came when lots of people came together. MIT did research on how science could support feeding people, (provide) clean drinking water, and clean up after the festival. And I think you can use the examples from the Kumbh Mela to look at Newark. Here is a city with lots of people – so how do you address the food of our future, the water (issues), and the antiquated infrastructure systems that need fixing? And how does STEM help those systems meet the needs of what is a growing city? Newark is a city of the future and yet so much of the city’s future is based on the past. I have to think science has at least some of the answers to guide people to tie that together, and that science and technology will provide the bridges across cultures, across populations, across ages.
PSEG has been a tremendous advocate for STEM education. What do you believe are the critical skills needed for students to compete in 21st century STEM careers?
So I’m going to start really early – I think curiosity, the ability to fail and pick yourself up, and perseverance are critical pieces of the work. And resilience is also a critical piece. None of our school systems are consistent in always providing that top-notch developmental kinds of education. If you watch young children, they are putting dirt in jars, they are adding water to different things, they are coloring, they are digging, they are exploring bugs. They are natural scientists. They are naturally creative, innovative and inspired. And somehow we lose that. So when we equip young children with the desire to dig through the earth, to dream about what the stars are about, to look up and to look around you – those are the first skills that children need and they are fostered with good education.
From your perspective what are the high demand jobs within PSEG?
On a skilled labor side, we would look at roles such, union and non-union roles, utility technicians, plant operators, line workers, people involved in bringing power to homes and businesses. On the professional sides, we hire engineers (mechanical, civil, electrical). We also have an IT-infrastructure system, finance and accounting, and always (need people with) business management skills. So those are, on the skilled labor side and professional side, the jobs that we would see being high demand, not only within our utility (company), but within the utility industry and the energy industry.
What solutions do you believe S2S programs and services provide to STEM education?
So here I am pretty passionate. One of the things that Students 2 Science does is that it takes exploration out of the textbook. I listen to some of the young people talk, and they put on a white coat and they become scientists. How often in a child’s learning career do we take the time to have them don the clothes, to touch the equipment, to experience the idea that they can be an explorer, a scientist? I think S2S is about that deeper experience – it is about mentorship without just a mentor; it is about book-learning outside the book; it is as if you could take the science experiment that you reproduce in textbooks and you put them up in the world in 3D. It does end that cycle of two-dimensional (education), killing curiosity and innovation, and it enables young people’s experience to envision themselves and actually behave the way they might behave should they be scientists.
Think about this – so I am not young, but I had the opportunity to put on the clothes of a fireperson, and even that silly little exercise put me in a different place in the way that I think. It changed the way I think. I think that is what S2S does. It actually gives you a unique experience, not just a reading experience. I have young people who come into the company, come to see me, and they say, “I don’t see someone who looks like me at the top. Can I get there?” And what S2S does is that it puts them in the role that they might imagine themselves in. It is funny, if you do not see someone like yourself, you may not be as inspired, you may not feel you can achieve. I think it is an amazing thing – to be able to go in and experience this classroom of experience.
If you could choose one word to describe yourself, an adjective or a noun, what word would it be?
I would call myself a human explorer and a world traveler. I would call myself an adventurer. I am also an artist. I have a Master’s degree in Arts. Maybe a Renaissance Woman – that may be the right word.
We could not agree more! In addition to being the Chief Diversity Officer at PSEG, Ms. Lambert holds the position of the President of the PSEG Foundation and Director of Corporate Responsibility and Culture. Formerly, she has held leadership positions in diverse organizations such as the Merck Foundation, the Roche Foundation, the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, and the Newark Beth Israel Medical Center Foundation. Her extensive experience in philanthropy and development of social investment strategies; her passion for diversity, inclusion and community engagement; and her advocacy for a strong education system give her a perspective that is both broad and in-depth as well as compassionate and optimistic. On a more personal note, Ms. Lambert recently became a grandmother for the first time to a baby boy . Our congratulations to the family!