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Women of the Future

2018 marks the fourth year the Women Designing the Future Conference was held at NJIT. This year’s conference focused on environmental studies and how across the world, we can do more with less. There were numerous speakers at the event, including Debbie Manns, Mary Landry, and Lucia Rodriguez-Freire.

NJIT President Joel Bloom also made an appearance welcoming attendees to the concert. In his opening statement, President Bloom remarked, “We need to do more with less, but we need more people to be involved with understanding environmental impact and be more aggressive about it.” President Bloom highlighted the overall theme of the conference: The need for STEM workers in this technologically-advanced society we live in.

As soon as attendees were seated, Debbie Manns, New Jersey’s new Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, was welcomed to the podium. “Newark” She began, “is at the frontline of what we want to do.” The time has come for change, and Manns plans to spearhead this. Manns has previously served as Governor Jon Corzine’s Environmental Policy Advisor and the Executive Director of the NY/NJ Baykeeper.

Judith Sheft, NJIT’s Vice President of Technological Development, commented on Manns’ speech, focusing listeners’ attention on collaboration and the need for a variety of perspectives from people of academic and government backgrounds.

Mary Landry – another keynote speaker who served as the Federal on Scene Coordinator in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in addition to being Senior Advisor to President Obama on Resilience Policy – spoke about her time working to solve the many issues that arose during the events of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Her speech about Women Leaders in Crisis Response urged listeners to think about things logically and acknowledge the importance of looking ahead.

She emphasized that we are, “on an evolutionary journey. Don’t underestimate what you are doing…It’s all building blocks…each of you can end up in a situation that contributes.” Landry stresses the importance of energy being a global issue and the international effects it has. Within her career, its detrimental to “manage the dynamic tension of all these elements” that make up the world, whether they are responders, NGOs, the government, the media, congress, and more.

Landry went on to address her time working in the White House and the difficulties of being a woman within her field. When she enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1980, only 11% of its members were females. “Now,” She said, “we have role models for the next generation to look up to.” These role models come from different backgrounds, different places, and each carve different roles for themselves in their respective field.

The conference broke into its first panel shortly after 10:00 a.m., in which the three panelists, Nancy Jackson, Mary Landry, and Lucia Rodriguez-Freire, discussed responses to environmental challenges. The panelists recommended that attendees follow three basic rules when concerning crisis response:

  1. Plan ahead of the crisis
  2. Prepare for the unexpected
  3. Have a succession plan

Mary Landry stressed the importance of “integrating science into your decisions” as she had done with her team. The women addressed the importance of deciding your response with confidence: the technology and the means you have in that moment govern you, not the technology or the means of the future.  Nancy Jackson, an NJIT professor in the Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science, reminded attendees that it was important to get the information out there and to take advantage of our society’s informational powerhouse: the media.

The next panel, regarding Urban Agriculture, started at 10:45 a.m. Next on stage was Lisa Newman, Annie Novak, Qiana Mickie, and Jennifer Papa. Lisa Newman is the Chief Operating Officer of AeroFarms, “the world’s largest-producing vertical farm.” She discussed AeroFarm’s methodology and reasons behind why they create farms like they do. She also mentioned that while she is the COO of AeroFarms, she is also “a soccer mom, a wife, a daughter, and a sister,” stressing the importance of self-identity in a world where the numbers of women often dwindle.

Story after story and woman after woman, The Women Designing the Future Conference made it its goal to spark many young women into striving to reach the top and ignite a fire within every attendee.

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