In Conversation with NJIT Alumna General Ellen Pawlikowski ’78

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In Conversation with NJIT Alumna General Ellen Pawlikowski ’78

By Prasanna Tati, Managing Editor

Briefly before the Awards Ceremony during this year’s alumni weekend at NJIT, I was given the opportunity to ask General Ellen Pawlikowski of NJIT’s Class of 1978 a few questions about how the campus has changed, her life in college, and a piece advice she has picked up along the way.

General Pawlikowski was a chemical engineering major at NJIT where she started serving for the Air Force through the ROTC program. She then moved on to complete her doctorate in chemical engineering at Berkeley in 1981 before entering active duty at McClellan Air Force Base in California. She received numerous accolades and promotions for her dedication and commitment, the most recent of which was to four star general in 2015. General Pawlikowski replaced General Janet Wolfenbager, the Air Force’s first female four-star general, as the third female ever to receive a fourth star in the Air Force. Just recently, she was also awarded with an honorary doctorate from NJIT for her achievements. General Pawlikowski visited NJIT during the annual alumni weekend to give a keynote address on the future of the United States Air Force.

When asked about the change she sees from the campus she knew in her college years to the one now, General Pawlikowski avidly described how NJIT was a small campus with a few building situated around the fenced off Central High School that students avoided going near. “You never knew what would come flying out of that high school’s windows,” she joked.

In addition, she mentioned that there were no women’s sports at NJIT when she was a student. In fact, there were only two men’s sports: soccer and baseball and neither of them were Division I. General Pawlikowski recounted a time when she met a man on board an airplane who mentioned that his daughter was being recruited for Division I volleyball by NJIT. General Pawlikowski laughed as she mentioned that she could not believe NJIT had a women’s volleyball team let alone the fact that it is also Division I.

She appreciates that NJIT’s curriculum has been broadened by the opportunity to participate in nationally competitive sports teams for both genders at a very high level of play. “I think this exponential increase in diversity, and I don’t just mean in terms of gender or race, but diversity in terms of extra-curricular activities, coursework, experiences, and everything is what makes NJIT a better and better place each time I visit,” she said.

General Pawlikowski continued to recount other memories such as the story of falling in love and meeting her late husband of the Class of 1976 at NJIT and spending some of their best times on campus. She mentioned that NJIT used to be 100% a commuter school, so students did not have much of a campus life. Eventually, when NJIT decided to remove a parking lot to build a dormitory, “students were outraged,” she recalled with a smile.

She remembers how one of her professors would always start of class by saying, “Good morning, gentlemen,” regardless of how many women were in the room. In regards to that experience, General Pawlikowski offered some advice for students, “I didn’t let the small stuff bother me, because it didn’t really matter. I kept my head down and didn’t care how many men outnumbered me. I just pushed through and didn’t quit. I still haven’t quit. What you think is hard right now won’t mean anything in six months, so never ever stop working your hardest.”

Though General Pawlikowski has served for the armed forces in various locations all over the country, after her trip down memory lane recounting her experiences as a young NJIT student, she concluded without batting an eyelid, “NJIT will always be home to me in so many ways.”

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Prasanna Tati

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