Women in STEM Rising

Judy Drabicki

I have served as the Director of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Region 6 for more than a decade. In that time, we have doubled the number of female employees in the region, which covers St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Herkimer and Oneida counties. In the five-county region, 50 women are currently employed in professional roles—a significant increase from the past.

    DEC offers excellent careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), careers in high demand that have been traditionally filled by men.

    In Susan S. Silbey’s 2016 article, “Why Do So Many Women Who Study Engineering Leave the Field,” from the online Harvard Business Review, Silbey noted that engineering is the most male-dominated field in STEM, with just 13 percent of women making up the workforce.

    DEC’s Region 6 Environmental Engineering Unit currently employs six women engineers, up from just one a few years ago. While all employees are selected because they are the best qualified for the job, at DEC we actively encourage managers to hire women, particularly in professions such as engineering, law, and biology—all fields where women are traditionally under-represented.

    Yuan Zeng is a professional engineer for DEC’s Division of Material Management in Watertown. Zeng has worked for DEC for more than 20 years. “I like my environmental career for its positive impact on the environment, such as air pollution control and waste reduction,” says Zeng.

    Her advice to younger generations who may also want a similar career path is to do well in school, intern with professionals, and demonstrate a strong work ethic.

    Jennifer Lauzon is a professional engineer in DEC’s Potsdam, St. Lawrence County office. She says, “My job has never been the same and is always adapting to the current environment. I like that the work I am doing will, in some way, benefit the environment and benefit the world that we live in.”

    Her advice for young women that like math and science and see themselves in an engineering career is to get a dual degree in engineering and engineering & management (E&M).

    As regional director, I see multiple benefits in increasing the number of women in all aspects of the DEC workforce. First, having been underrepresented in the past, seeking equity will mean the absolute best people are doing the work of protecting the environment. Second, women often have a different approach to problem-solving and conflict resolution, which benefits our collective decision-making. And third, the role models women present to the hundreds of students we meet through DEC’s outreach efforts benefits all of the young men and women interested in entering the field of environmental protection—they will see for themselves that DEC is a welcoming agency that employs a diverse group of New Yorkers from a variety of backgrounds, genders, in a range of demanding professions.

    Regardless of gender, our day-to-day business is handled by a team of highly skilled professionals. Working together, we are committed to the DEC mission, the health and safety of New York’s environment, and the communities that we call home. 

Judy Drabicki is regional director, Region 6 NYSDEC, with a career that spans three decades of ensuring the natural beauty of the north country is protected and enjoyed for generations to come. She oversees a staff of more than 200 people, including engineers, biologists, permit writers, Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation officers, operations staff, and many others.