their classrooms, they don’t know they can do it. I’m very passionate
about bringing underrepresented minorities and women into the
professoriate and the academy so we can inspire a new generation
of diverse leaders.
I think part of it really is when you are “other,” it is important
to feel welcome.
You’ve reportedly said that there are three things you would
never do. One is be a dean, two is start a company and three is
write a book. You’ve done two out of three. I’m curious as to
what has motivated you to take different turns in your career.
So, it is true. I did say I never wanted to be a dean. I never wanted
to start a company. I didn’t want to write a book. I actually haven’t
written a book yet, but I have a title for a book. I was thinking just
yesterday I probably need to write it. So, stay tuned on that one.
I wanted to become a dean because leadership to me is common sense. I felt that if I could make the lives better for my fellow
faculty members, that I could have a bigger impact and just make
it better for all.
When I was a young professor, we established an engineering research center. I helped cowrite the grant. As part of the
grant, there was an expectation that we were going to create
a new workforce and new industries. I took that mission very
seriously, which led me to leave academia and try to create those
new companies, products, processes and a different kind of educated workforce.
Did you enjoy your time as undersecretary of energy at the
U. S. Department of Energy?
You know, I did like it. It was a very intense period of time. Maybe
it was because we had to invest $37 billion in energy and environ-
ment investments from the American Recovery and Reinvestment
Act in addition to the broad $11 billion energy and environment
portfolio. It was an honor to work for the Department of Energy.
Every single individual I worked with was committed. We worked
every weekend, every evening, to try and get funding out, so that
we could create jobs, put people back to work and lower our green-
house gas emissions.
While you were at Duke you created a fellowship that
supported about a third of undergraduates so that they could
spend 18 months doing research in labs. Are you thinking of
similar things at SUNY, or are there any plans to partner with
New York high schools to promote STEM education?
When I was at Duke, I saw that a lot of our engineering students
were going to New York to join the financial industry, which is fine.
But I thought it also would be great to introduce our students to a
broader array of opportunities.
The program, called the Pratt Research Fellows, has students
start work in research labs during the spring of their junior year,
including the summer and all during their senior year. When those
kids graduated, they were going to the financial sector, but they
were also going on to graduate schools. It was exciting because
they really caught the bug of innovation. So, yes, I’d like to start
that at SUNY.
We’re also very excited about trying to link SUNY with high
schools. One of the exciting things about SUNY is it’s the largest
comprehensive university system in the country. We have high
schools that we charter. We have 30 community colleges. We
have 13 comprehensive, unique four-year institutions with master’s
programs. We have technical-focused t wo- and four-year schools.
Then, we have 14 doctoral-granting degree institutions, including
five medical schools and three hospitals.
During my first State of the University System Address, I discussed four themes across our broad intellectual ecosystem. First,
innovation and entrepreneurship. The second, individualized education. Third, energy and sustainability, and fourth, partnerships.
Creating programs where all of our students are doing research and
innovation together — I think that is very exciting.
What advice do you have for young people just starting their
higher education or careers?
Get everything you can out of it. I played sports. I “hashed” at the
French house to keep up my French. I worked in the labs. When
you start in higher ed, it’s important to find an area that you can
carve out outside the classroom. I recommend that students look
up faculty with similar interests and make an appointment and ask
to work with the faculty member as an independent study student.
What books are you reading now?
So, there’s a book George Packer wrote called The Unwinding,
which talks about Youngstown when Delphi left and the real es-
tate crash in Tampa. It weaves through these characters that we all
know that were living at the time in those communities. Janesville
by Amy Goldstein is by my bedside along with Seeing What Others
Don’t by Gary Klein. S T A T
Chancellor Kristina Johnson visits the Institute for Advanced
Manufacturing at Clinton Community College, a member of
The State University of New York system.