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.

May 2016 Cover Story: Economic Development

Securing a stronger future for the north country

COR Development’s Mercy Health Center Redevelopment project is set to begin its first phase of construction this summer on 30,000 square feet of commercial space and 108 apartments. Overall, the project will house 168 units and a community center on the grounds of the former Mercy Hospital in Watertown. Photo by Stephen Swofford, NNY Business.

COR Development’s Mercy Health Center Redevelopment project is set to begin its first phase of construction this summer on 30,000 square feet of commercial space and 108 apartments. Overall, the project will house 168 units and a community center on the grounds of the former Mercy Hospital in Watertown. Photo by Stephen Swofford, NNY Business.

Despite workforce challenges, regional economic development continues to power positive growth across Northern New York

By Karee Magee, NNY Business

A rural and historically challenged region where economic development was often stagnant, the Great Recession dealt a significant blow to New York’s north country as its counties saw a spike in unemployment and manufacturing jobs disappear, including about 600 from Jefferson County alone. [Read more…]

The Robot Zone set to open Saturday in downtown Potsdam

Lori Green, a sixth-grade special education teacher at Salmon River Central School, right, works with Janice Marlow-Santamore, a sixth-grade teacher at Salmon River Central School, to program a Lego Mindstorm robot Tuesday at the Robot Zone in downtown Potsdam. Photo by Jason Hunter, Watertown Daily Times.

Lori Green, a sixth-grade special education teacher at Salmon River Central School, right, works with Janice Marlow-Santamore, a sixth-grade teacher at Salmon River Central School, to program a Lego Mindstorm robot Tuesday at The Robot Zone in downtown Potsdam. Photo by Jason Hunter, Watertown Daily Times.

Tucked away next to Verizon at 71 Market St., science, technology, engineering and math education business The Robot Zone has moved its operations off campus, and is getting ready for a grand opening this Saturday. [Read more…]

STEM scholarship offers NNY students opportunity

CANTON – A full scholarship offered by New York state to attend college for science, technology, engineering and math related fields could be an important launch for north country students.

The state offers a full scholarship to the top 10 percent of graduating high school students to attend SUNY schools for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and who pledge to work and live in New York for five years following graduation.

State Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, is encouraging area students to consider the STEM scholarship as a good step into their future.

“The north country is home to many high-tech industries and world-class universities,” Mrs. Russell said in a statement. “This scholarship is an excellent opportunity that I hope driven young people will take advantage of so they can write the next chapter of development in the region.”

Last year, statewide, there were 553 recipients for the scholarship totaling $2.796 million.

For the north country region, including Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Clinton, Essex, Franklin and Hamilton counties, there were 15 recipients totaling $84,208.

Students looking to receive the scholarship must graduate in the top 10 percent of their class; attend a SUNY, CUNY or statutory college including Cornell and Alfred Universities; and must maintain a 2.5 grade point average or higher each semester.

For a high poverty area like the north country region, going to college could be tough to picture for many students, but schools in the region are beginning to push these STEM fields early in students’ education which could set them up for opportunities like the state’s scholarship.

“Considering the high poverty level in the area this scholarship could be a great opportunity for students who may not have the ability to go to college,” said Lisa J. Blank, the new STEM director for the Watertown City School District. “You are talking saving kids around $30,000 a year.”

Thomas R. Burns, superintendent of the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, agreed that the scholarship makes college more accessible for students.

“By providing a full SUNY tuition, the scholarship would increase the equity for student access to college,” Mr. Burns said.

Mrs. Blank has worked with several area school districts including Sackets Harbor, Lyme, General Brown and Belleville Henderson to set up programs in science, technology, engineering and math and apply for grants from the Department of Defense Education Activity.

Mrs. Blank recently helped Watertown schools secure a $1.25 million grant from DoDEA to set up STEM programming in the district.

The grant money will be used for teacher training in technology, implementation of video lessons on the computer that can be bought or developed by teachers and several technology-based extracurricular activities, including robotics clubs for elementary pupils and engineering clubs for middle and high school students.

The funding can be applied to 14 clubs.

The money also will buy two new laptop carts each for H.T. Wiley Intermediate School, Case Middle School and Watertown High School, as well as a new virtual learning system.

Mrs. Blank also put schools in touch with STEM programs including Project Lead the Way, which provides STEM curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade.

Mrs. Blank also helped Lyme Central School District connect with the Full Option Science System program which provides hands-on learning science curricula for kindergarten through eighth grade.

“Seventy percent of the instruction is hands-on which increases kids’ interest in science,” Mrs. Blank said. “It is important to get kids interested in STEM at elementary school and middle school levels so they are on the right path for knowing what they want to do when they graduate high school.”

Stephen J. Todd, superintendent of the Jefferson-Lewis BOCES, said anything that encourages students to go to college to become STEM coordinators would be good for north country schools.

“There is a shortage of teachers in this area particularly in STEM related fields,” Mr. Todd said. “I think this scholarship is a wonderful thing for the state as a whole. It is a good incentive for students to go into STEM instruction which could benefit our schools.”

Mr. Burns said it is important that the scholarship requires commitment from students to stay in the state after graduation.

“Requiring the recipients to sign a service agreement to stay in New York in a STEM-related field not only promotes STEM-related careers but contributes to better economic development growth while helping to limit the out migration of young people to other parts of the state and country,” Mr. Burns said.

Both BOCES facilities offer career and technical classes for students attending member schools.

“We have been working on many career-focused programs at the BOCES, and again there are some possibilities with this scholarship to insure that students are both college and career ready when they leave high school and college,” Mr. Burns said.

Mrs. Blank said the only concern Mrs. Blank said she has heard from students was that there are not enough fields that apply as STEM-related under the scholarship guidelines.

According to the New York State Higher Educational Services Corporation, the agency that provides information on scholarship and financial aid options, some approved programs under the scholarship guidelines include computer science and programming, agricultural engineering, industrial and manufacturing engineering, solar technology and mathematics and statistics.

“In the long-run, this scholarship will benefit all New Yorkers as we encourage and cultivate tomorrow’s industry leaders and secure a bright economic future,” Mrs. Russell said.

According to the state Department of Labor the median wage for workers in STEM occupations in the north country region is $59,641.

The STEM occupation in the north country with the highest median wage is a physician’s assistant, $103,685, which employed 200 people in 2015.

The next highest median wage for the north country was earned by environmental engineers, $85,216, which employed 80 people in 2015.

The lowest median wage was earned by architectural and civil drafters, $31,250, which employed 80 people in 2015.

Scholarship requirements

Be a legal resident of the state and reside here for 12 months.

Be a high school senior/recent high school graduate who will be enrolled full-time at a SUNY or CUNY college, including community colleges and the statutory colleges at Cornell University and Alfred University, beginning in the fall term following his or her high school graduation.

Be ranked in the top 10 percent of his/her high school graduating class of a New York state high school.

Be matriculated in an undergraduate program leading to a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

Earn a cumulative grade point average of 2.5 or higher each term after the first semester.

Execute a service contract agreeing to reside and work in the state for five years in the field of science, technology, engineering or mathematics.

By Richard Moody, Times Staff Writer