Networks. Human capital. Tremendous technological resources. I was pleasantly surprised when I came back to New Jersey to find out how strong its innovation environment is.
I expected to find collaboration between institutions of higher education and researchers. And I knew that our state is rich in talent. But I hadn’t counted on the amazingly strong and helpful networks that bring New Jersey businesses, government, and academic institutions together.
Because of existing organizations like Choose New Jersey, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey, the Sustainable Business Registry, Wastewise, US Green Building Council, Lead NJ, and many others that all welcomed me readily, I was able to tap into unlimited resources.
This helped the organization I lead, Monclair State University’s PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies, to build broad partnerships that support our Green Teams program, a novel team-based summer internship program. Because of our continuing, generous and strong support from PSEG, I was able to create this program to engage businesses and communities in hands-on, STEM experiential learning opportunities. We provide meaningful paid internships to bright and deserving students throughout New Jersey and beyond.
Green Teams Find Solutions for
NJ Corporations and Public Transit
In four years since we launched, Green Teams has placed hundreds of college students in paid internships by pairing transdisciplinary teams of five students coming from different majors with corporations, government organizations and nonprofits. So far, students representing 63 majors and 25 universities have completed 128 projects for 25 New Jersey hosting organizations like Prudential, Honeywell, Bristol Myers Squibb, ADP, Stryker, NJ TRANSIT, ECOS, SUEZ, American Water, NJ Natural Gas, and many others.
The projects that the 36 previous teams worked on ranged from data management, ROI and CBA analyses, web communications and coding, to sustainability reporting, GIS mapping, emissions reduction planning, bioenergy feasibility study, and treatment and reduction of industrial wastewater.
For instance, our New Jersey Natural Gas team in 2019 built out the Alexa platform for NJNG’s customers to receive energy saving tips. On that team, we had students majoring in Computer Engineering, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Sustainability Science, Psychology, and Writing Arts. The students developed scientifically sound pointers, wrote the script for Alexa, ensured it was understandable to a broad audience, wrote code, brought the instance online and went live before the end of the 10 week program. They then trained staff to continue building it out going forward.
Similarly, a team of Economics, Physics, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Environmental Policy Institutions and Behavior, and Mechanical Engineering students worked on a project for NJ TRANSIT. This included collecting and analyzing environmental data, case studies, and writing code that used the environmental data along with specs from Electric Vehicle (EV) bus manufacturers. The interns then conducted ROI analysis to output recommendations for EV buses that NJ TRANSIT should purchase. Additional projects addressed resilience, worked to build a circular economy through recycling extruded polystyrene (EPS) foam and reducing waste going to landfills coupled with production of picture frames from recycled EPS. The students also mapped corporate activities to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, developed a two degree scenario, and built community engagement.
Interns in the Green Teams program receive a series of professional development trainings and basic information on Sustainability Science. Teams visit their host corporations several times, and conduct the majority of their work on site at Montclair State University. They developed comprehensive reports and presented their projects in group TED-style talks at a symposium at the end of the 10 weeks to approximately 250 industry professionals and academics. All of the projects our students deliver are implemented.
Building a diverse workforce through
opportunity and partnerships
The National Science Foundation has recognized the value of the unique opportunity provided by PSEG Institute for Sustainbility Studies’ Green Teams program. We have received $2M from NSF’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions program for 2020 – 2025 to build out the Green Teams for students from underrepresented groups in STEM by including their families in this educational journey for first-generation college students and first time STEM majors in their family. Corporations have pledged to engage not only with students, but with their families to help ensure that our future workforce is diverse and well-supported. We have received $600,000 from NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education program from 2020 to 2023 to improve STEM literacy for all – STEM and non-STEM majors. One of the unique aspects and value of the Green Teams program is that we include all majors.
We have Humanities majors work side by side with STEM majors – Writing Arts and English majors working with Engineering and Sustainability Science. As all businesses need strong writers and communicators, these students learn that their contributions are necessary and meaningful. They recognize how it may be difficult for an employee in a STEM career to communicate with lay audiences and that the work they do is very important for storytelling.
Green Teams also received a $300,000 from NSF’s INCLUDES program from 2017 to 2019 to build stronger network focus on inclusive workforces through collective impact. All of us need to work together to educate the next generation of STEM employees, whether STEM majors or not. This grant provided Diversity and Inclusion workshops to corporations that we hosted, along with Green Teams to six organizations. What we learned was that although students do feel included when they work in transdisciplinary teams, we need to do a better job of including families. We found that students who do not come from households with parents working in STEM are more hesitant to identify with the benefits of STEM opportunities, and that 100% of those STEM majors participating in this program stay in STEM and get STEM jobs.
Montclair State University’s PSEG Institute for Sustainabilty Studies and our vast network in New Jersey supports STEM education for all. We produce career-ready graduates that have professional skills far exceeding those learned in traditional academic programs alone. From Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, we learn about the power of networks and how they can bring about change that does not occur without them. New Jersey’s networks are vast, our students are diverse, and they are workforce ready.
Amy R. Tuininga, Ph.D., directs the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies at Montclair State University.