Transcript for Episode 17, Emily Carter

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Women are raising our voices.

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Solving the problems of the world.

You’ve got to be at the table

Your voice does matter.

She roars! Let me hear you roar one more time!

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Margaret Koval: Welcome back to She Roars, a podcast about change and the Princeton women who drive it forward before, during and after their time here on campus. My name is Margaret Koval and my guest today is Emily Carter. Emily has been a professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science here for 15 years. She became the founding director of the school’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment in 2016. And for the last three years she’s led the engineering school as its very charismatic dean. Sadly for us, Emily has just accepted a new position as the executive vice chancellor and provost for the University of California-Los Angeles. Emily, I’m so glad I could get you in here before you leave town. Thank you for coming.

Emily Carter: It’s my pleasure.

Margaret Koval: I want to get out there at the very beginning the fact that you and I first became friends more than 20 years ago [laughing]. I’m afraid to count exactly but more than 20 years ago when our kids were in day care together and then elementary school together on the UCLA campus [laughing].

Emily Carter: Absolutely.

Margaret Koval: Yep. My family was part of the UCLA community and you were just starting your career there essentially, right?

Emily Carter: Yeah, I started there actually in 1988.

Margaret Koval: Oh wow.

Emily Carter: And you and I met, I think, in 1996 probably. 1995, maybe.

Margaret Koval: Yes.

Emily Carter: And have been friends ever since.

Margaret Koval: Yeah! But now you’re going back as basically the second in command of the university, one of the biggest universities in the world. Tell me what the job looks like. What will you be doing?

Emily Carter: Well, this particular position is — if you look on the website it is the chief operating officer and the chief academic officer of the university. You know, to give you some point of reference, here those are two separate jobs — the executive vice president and the provost. And this job that I’m taking on is both of those roles at a university which is more than five times the size. So it’s a huge undertaking but it’s really exciting because, you know, you really have the opportunity together with the chancellor to push the university and the entire community forward.

Margaret Koval: Yeah. So obviously that was going to be one of my top questions. What are the big challenges that excite you the most that made you really want to take this job?

Emily Carter: Well, what I can tell you is that I painted a vision for the leadership that I spoke to. They had approached me actually in January and initially I can tell you that my initial response was, nope, I’m not interested. I have just loved Princeton intensely and all the time I’ve spent here. It’s been — I’ve told people many times it is my intellectual home. It’s the place that I’ve felt most at home intellectually in my whole life. And it’s very difficult to leave. It was a very difficult decision to leave. And I’m only leaving because I really, especially since I became the founding director of the Andlinger Center in 2010, that was the moment for me, after I started building the Andlinger Center for Princeton, to realize how meaningful it is to do something so much larger than yourself and to have such, to have the possibility of having an enormous impact. And so for me it was very meaningful. It was very meaningful to do that for the Andlinger Center because I cared so deeply about the environment and finding solutions to make sure to preserve the planet for future generations. But then you know, once it was built, then I have to say I got to the point where I thought, OK, I’ve put my imprint on this. It’s probably time for someone else to come in with some fresh ideas. And then I was fortunate enough that the timing was right and the university felt that I was the right person to lead the School of Engineering forward. And I think that, you know, that offered me the opportunity then to really push in other areas. And so the reason I bring all that up is because I am really a person about always looking — I wake up every day, how can I have the most impact today?

Margaret Koval: Yes?

Emily Carter: And how can I basically have greater impact? And so the thing that was so compelling for me and the vision that I painted for UCLA was that, I mean, there are many, many issues that UCLA could grapple with. But one that I think is incredibly important and could be transformative in so many ways not just at UCLA but all over the world is to engage really deeply with Los Angeles beyond the many ways that UCLA already does but to be thinking about something which actually came to the fore in our priorities within the School of Engineering, which is to think about the future of cities and to think about how we can use Los Angeles as a beautiful, multicultural testbed, being very sensitive to different cultures. You know, if you look at Los Angeles, you know this well —

Margaret Koval: Yeah.

Emily Carter: That people often say that you pick any country on the planet and you ask where is the largest population outside of that country and oftentimes the answer is Los Angeles.

Margaret Koval: Yeah.

Emily Carter: And so the idea that we would have a way of reaching out to all of these different cultures that just already exist in Los Angeles and finding ways to think through how future metropolises can be formulated and evolve to be sustainable, to be equitable, to be resilient, you know, and worth living in.

Margaret Koval: Yeah.

Emily Carter: You know.

Margaret Koval: Well look, I’m not an urban planner by any stretch but I can certainly see how UCLA — I mean, sorry, how Los Angeles is in so many ways a perfect laboratory for everything that you just described. I mean, it’s so much the city, in a lot of ways, the city of the future. We’ve got huge climate change problems, huge transportation problems, immigration issues, you know, everything that is part of the public discourse about, you know, urban life, so fascinating.

Emily Carter: Yeah. So I said that this to me seemed to be the thing that UCLA could really lead on and it would involve all parts of campus, you know? And so my hope is — you know, I’ve pitched this idea to the leadership. I hope to galvanize and inspire the faculty and the students and the staff, the whole community, to decide that this is going to be UCLA’s future. I mean, of course we’ll do many things, but this could be really — so for me that was incredibly exciting because I think then if I can do that then, you know, what we learn from those trials, those investigations, hopefully all of the best practices that result could be translated to cities all over the world. And you know, basically the way cities go is the way the planet’s going to go, because over half the population lives in cities currently and it’s only going to grow.

Margaret Koval: Only getting bigger. Yeah, of course. I wonder if you could reflect back because to me you’re an institution at Princeton. You’ve been here for as I said 15 years. I wonder if you have any — what will you think of as your biggest accomplishments as a university leader here on campus?

Emily Carter: I’m very proud of what I together with many partners and much help built in terms of the lasting legacy of the Andlinger Center. The fact is that I realized at the grand opening that we had in 2016, all of a sudden I realized I was the one faculty member that saw that building through from beginning to end.

Margaret Koval: Yeah. And just to kind of repeat what the Andlinger Center does, it’s the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. So it’s right at the nexus of so many issues but obviously climate change and resources and —

Emily Carter: Yeah. Well so for me this was incredibly meaningful to be able to start building something from scratch and to hire all the people, the staff and the faculty jointly with departments, and to build up this incredible group of fantastic faculty, mostly junior faculty, that were joint with departments all over the engineering school but also the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, the Woodrow Wilson School, and the School of Architecture and psychology. And so I think, you know, having been able to do that, that’s a big part of my legacy. I think also, you know, the building of course is, I think, beautiful and —

Margaret Koval: Beautiful, I would agree.

Emily Carter: And it, you know —

Margaret Koval: Sustainable.

Emily Carter: Is a model of a sustainability. You know, it actually won — I was really very proud of this. It was named one of the top ten architectural projects of 2016 —

Margaret Koval: No, I didn’t know that.

Emily Carter: By Architectural Digest, I think, is the magazine. So you know, it’s a beautiful building but and then in addition to that they’re, you know, all of the programs that we put in place. So the School of Engineering had already started a sustainable engineering certificate for the undergrads, mostly a technical certificate. I was involved in that at the inception as well, which now resides in the Andlinger Center. But one thing that was done under my watch was to start another certificate program for the undergrads that was aimed more at the humanities and social science students to learn about the intersection between energy, technology and society. So that’s, you know, and so there was a lot of educational initiatives. The public education project that I’m so proud of — that I recruited Rob Socolow who is a giant in the field, a real pioneer in the field about technology solutions to mitigate climate change —

Margaret Koval: Right.

Emily Carter: and I recruited him to this public education project we called — I dubbed it the Energy Technology Distillates Project which is on the web, which looks at, teaches any interested layperson the key ideas associated with emerging energy technologies. And these ideas are not just the technical ones. They’re the economic ones and the policy issues, etc. And so very proud of that. You know, we started a corporate affiliates program. The current director, Lynn Loo, was my deputy director. And she really ran with that as her portfolio to start up those kinds of interactions. So many different things. So I’m very proud of that. I feel like the legacy is that now people are looking around the country and saying, wow, this is a very substantive center in this area, more substantive, I would argue, than many of our competitors. [Laughter] And it, you know, and that’s great because it will be needed for centuries. And I feel great that I was, you know, a huge part of getting it going.

Margaret Koval: Yeah. No, it’s something that the university is intensely proud of and an incredibly vibrant part of the community too, so I find myself going there quite a bit.

Emily Carter: Yeah? Good.

Margaret Koval: You described — so, kind of, you hinted on this a second ago or hinted at this a second ago. Back in 2007, you’ve told me before —

Emily Carter: Yeah.

Margaret Koval: You had kind of a revelation or an epiphany that utterly redirected your sense of academic and intellectual mission. It does inform your decision to move to the Andlinger Center but I wonder if you could describe that.

Emily Carter: Sure. So what happened for me is that in early 2007 the latest version of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report came out. And I read the executive summary of the science portion of it. It’s an enormous document so I didn’t have time to read the whole thing!

Margaret Koval: [Laughing] I see.

Emily Carter: But I read it and I was — it was just like an awakening for me. I had not — you know, I just had been doing my science. And —

Margaret Koval: Happily so.

Emily Carter: Happily so. And teaching and training students for 20 years roughly. And I had been, of course, enjoying it and having a good career. But all of a sudden, the fact that they said in that report that at the 95% confidence level that climate change was coming and it was being caused by humans burning fossil fuels, and it all made sense. The science completely made sense. This was not conjecture. Anyway, the point is that I decided at that moment I was not, you know, I’m still having fun but I wasn’t just going to have fun. I was going to be very intentional and purposeful that every grant proposal that I wrote from then on and every project I decided to work on had to be making use of my expertise to try to get us off of fossil fuels, to work on sustainable energy technologies.

Margaret Koval: Yeah, I find this a great expression of the service ethos of the university but also frankly an expression of your personality so —

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There’s a couple of things that you’ve told me about in the past that I think are particularly interesting. So you redirected your research group and you moved into a couple of areas that are really exciting and sound beyond space-age on some levels: negative emission technology, I think, and even more space-agey, artificial photosynthesis. We don’t have a month. I wonder if you can summarize for somebody who’s no expert in the field what those things are? Maybe negative emission technologies would come first.

Emily Carter: Well, they’re related. And so negative emission technologies, so what it refers to is how can we essentially think about taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and out of the emission streams of industry, you know, potentially out of the tailpipe. Because what, you know, as we know, the simplest is burning any fossil fuel produces, because it has carbon in it, it produces carbon dioxide. And carbon dioxide is the most ubiquitous greenhouse gas right now. It’s not the most severe but it is the most ubiquitous. And so the idea of negative emissions technologies is to find ways to capture the carbon dioxide either from, for example, a cement plant or a steel plant or a power plant that is at quite high concentration coming out of those and do something with the permanently. And so in particular there’s this concept of carbon sequestration underground. We have excellent people in civil and environmental engineering here who work on that. That’s the idea behind negative emission technologies.

Now, in my own research, one of the things I’ve worked a lot on is essentially how can we run combustion backwards. OK, so combustion of fossil fuels produces CO2 and water. Could we take CO2 and water and renewable energy, either sunlight or wind, it doesn’t really matter. I’m agnostic as to what it comes from. And use those, the electricity as the source of energy to run combustion backwards to recreate fuels. And what you could do then is create a virtuous cycle where you’re not having to pull hydrocarbons out of the ground and then net getting more into the atmosphere but maybe reusing the carbon dioxide that has already been burned and having a cycle where you’re not producing more of it.

Margaret Koval: Wow. OK.

Emily Carter: And so we work on the discovery of materials that can do those kinds of chemical transformations.

Margaret Koval: Alright. Will you be able to keep doing this? Right? This is really important work. Will you be able to keep this kind of work going when you are in your new position?

Emily Carter: I am going to try. [Laughter] Yeah, I mean, it’s clear that I’m also really proud of the work that I’ve done as dean. And in terms of pushing the research priorities of the school forward and also in terms of amplifying our visibility, I think we are this hidden gem. And I think that we’ve really amped up what we do in terms of communications and messaging and I think that’s also, those are all things I’m very proud of, the work that we have done to move our work in bioengineering and data science and robotics and the future of cities along. And I’m also very proud of that. That’s — I didn’t quite answer your question. What I want to say and the reason I brought all that up is because I managed to do all of that, to lead all of that, while — I shouldn’t say I did it. I led it and of course in concert with many other people. But I still managed to keep a very active research portfolio, somewhat shrunk from the Andlinger Center days a little bit, by about a third. Now, clearly, this job is enormous. And there are going to be many demands on my time. But I really do want to keep a small effort going. I think — I love doing science. It’s been my life. You know, it’s been my life. I don’t want to give it up completely. And so I’m planning to keep a couple of projects going with a few people and it’s going to be a transition period. I’ll still have people here for a while. And I’ll be going back and forth. So.

Margaret Koval: Yeah. OK. I’ve been looking at some data that starts in about the time we met, about 1995, looking at women in the workforce in science and engineering and math and they include social science in this. And the kind of surprising thing is in certain categories — engineering, for example, way down at the bottom — computer science and math has actually dropped as a percentage. Women have dropped in those fields as a percentage of the overall workforce since 1995. Biological science has gone up. Social science has gone up and so on and so forth. I’m just wondering what do you think is behind those trends, if you have any views on that?

Emily Carter: Sure. I mean, I think they’re societal. I mean, you know, little girls get messages. In fact, there’s work that’s been done here partially by our dean of the graduate school, Sarah-Jane Leslie, about the fact that there’s a sea change from kids who are 6 years old to 7 years old. That there’s a step function change in their own self perceptions of what they can do.

Margaret Koval: Hmm.

Emily Carter: They’re getting messages, media messages, of what is right for girls to do. You know? And that is still going on. You know? Which is really, it’s really frustrating. And you sort of hope that those messages die out but they get propagated to the next generation.

Margaret Koval: Yeah.

Emily Carter: You know? And it’s very frustrating. And so I think what one has to do is be very intentional about getting the right messages out there. You know? And so I try to do that whenever I can but, you know, I’m just one person. But what we have been trying to do and all that one can do is to work within your own sphere of influence, and so I can tell you that when I came in as dean, you know, we weren’t doing badly. We were, the undergraduate population was about 36% female but it should be 50% female. There’s just no reason. This is Princeton. We should be leading. We shouldn’t be behind. And so I went and talked with the dean of admission and said, what’s going on? Why can’t we get to 50%? And so I don’t know what ended up happening. You know, I’m sure lots of — you know, maybe they were now more intentional of looking for more women interested in engineering. I don’t know. But I also changed. I sent out a welcome letter and I put language in the letter. Again, messaging I think is so important. So those kids that were admitted got a different kind of letter than they had received before where I focused on the fact that, you know, there are studies which show that women are really interested in serving society. In fact, and I always describe engineering as science and service of society.

Margaret Koval: Yeah.

Emily Carter: And so in the letter I talked about, you know, if you like science and math, and you must because you signed up as a BSE, you know, know that you are going to be part of the solution of all the world’s problems. And know that you’ll be able to — another thing women like is they’re social animals. They like to work together. And so to talk about it as not as a hierarchy but as teamwork.

Margaret Koval: Right.

Emily Carter: And also to talk about creativity. And because engineering is creative. You’re trying to come up with creative solutions. And in fact, today there’s a real, something we’re starting to stress in the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education is design thinking. Design thinking is a concept that came out of business that says start with empathy for your client. Figure out what the needs are. Well you know, so if you talk about the fact that engineering is about, you know, teamwork, design, creativity, empathy, I think those are all things — and service to society — I think those are all things that appeal to women.

Margaret Koval: Yeah!

Emily Carter: And so as a result, that year, my first year in June, the matriculants — so the people who had agreed to come as BSE students — were 50/50.

Margaret Koval: Wow! That’s a —

Emily Carter: So —

Margaret Koval: Rapid switch!

Emily Carter: And it’s been like that each year since then but — well, there’s only two data points. I don’t know. [Laughter] We haven’t reached June so I’m hoping that’s going to be true this June.

Margaret Koval: Right.

Emily Carter: But those two years it was true. However, that said, then what happens is over the summer — so that was very good. But then over the summer there’s a bunch of undecided students that decide then to switch into the BSE program which is great. We welcome all comers. It turns out they skew male. And so the entering class was now, by the first year after I became dean, that next entering class was 43%. And then this next year was, this past September, was 44%. So we’re inching up.

Margaret Koval: Yeah.

Emily Carter: So that’s good. So there’s the admissions. I mean, you have to sort of look at the whole career arc. And so there’s the admissions. Then of course it’s retention, because we have learned that — and this is something very important — if you look at the statistics, so first of all we on average were losing about 20% of the BSEs were transferring out to the AB program. Which I don’t — you know, it’s not a loss.

Margaret Koval: And BSE is?

Emily Carter: Sorry. Bachelor’s of Science of Engineering. So there was a real sense among our faculty that we needed to offer a new pathway. And so we spent two years developing a new curriculum that is another pathway. We’re not trying to say that it should be the only pathway. But we offer now a pathway that we’re in our second year of this pilot of teaching students, especially what we’re aiming at is the students who come in being passionate about the idea of what engineering can do for the world but through no fault of their own, you know, grew up in a zip code where they went to a high school that didn’t have calculus, for example.

Margaret Koval: Yeah.

Emily Carter: I went to one of those. OK?

Margaret Koval: Yeah. As did I.

Emily Carter: OK. And so we want to make sure that those kids don’t get lost. And so we are teaching — and because I think a lot of kids who come in if they’re not quite up to the fast pace then they get discouraged in those math and physics classes. And then they find that — and then they don’t have anything to balance that discouragement.

Margaret Koval: Yeah.

Emily Carter: And so what we wanted to do — we’re not, you know, nothing has been dumbed down. It’s very challenging. But what we’re doing is we’re teaching them the math and physics they need to be successful in any of the engineering disciplines through the lens of engineering examples. So we’re hoping that, while they will struggle because it’s hard and they’ll struggle, we hope they’ll struggle but still be inspired.

Margaret Koval: Yeah.

Emily Carter: So that they’ll stay with it. And we have data, again, for one year. So that’s only one data point. But we went from a 20% attrition rate last year among this pilot group to a 6% attrition rate.

Margaret Koval: Wow, that is very impressive.

Emily Carter: And this class was 70% women.

Margaret Koval: Wow. Very impressive.

Emily Carter: OK.

Margaret Koval: Yeah.

Emily Carter: And I should say that in addition to the 20% attrition rate, the other thing — maybe I said this. I’m sorry if I repeat this. But we were disproportionally losing women and under-represented minorities in that first year.

Margaret Koval: Yeah, you didn’t say that.

Emily Carter: And we completely turned that around.

Margaret Koval: Well, congratulations. That’s really good to hear. You presented at the She Roars Conference back in October.

Emily Carter: Yes.

Margaret Koval: And you’ve told me subsequently that it was the first time in your life that you had presented before an audience that was predominantly female, which just kind of blew me back a little bit. And I guess I thought two things. I thought, on the one hand, was it different? Did you get a different vibe from the room? I mean, different subject, of course. But also, does it matter? And I know it matters — I feel very strongly, we all do, I think — it very much matters for women to be in a room full of welcoming scientists or whatever. Does it matter for society?

Emily Carter: So that’s interesting. Well, I think it matters for society in the following sense. If a woman feels that she doesn’t belong or if an underrepresented minority feels that they don’t belong, they’re going to leave. Why should they? Life’s too short. Why be in a hostile environment? Right? And so that means we lose their talent and that is heartbreaking to me. OK? So for me it’s incredibly important, and so I’m glad you’re giving me a chance to say a little bit more about this because in addition to what we’ve done for the undergraduates, you know, we are focusing on developing the talent at the graduate level, at the postdoc level, and at the faculty level. And so in particular I want to say that when I came in as dean I wanted to be able to create the space to hire a full-time person who could work on these issues of diversity and inclusion as an associate dean and it took us two years but we got a fantastic person who came in August, Dr. Julie Yun, who’s a clinical psychologist but cares as deeply as I do about these issues. And she even in less than one year has made a huge difference. It just makes such a difference to have a full-time person who is intentional about it. And what we did, again, it comes back to messaging. We focused on graduate recruitment as a first start and we focused on underrepresented minority graduate recruitment because we have not done well in that area. And again, if you just sit back and you wait for people to apply, they’re not going to apply. You need to tell people, we want you, we value your talent. And we want to tell you that when you’re here and support you while you’re here. And so because we know. I mean, coming back to this issue about, you know, what’s different about being in a room where you’re in the majority or the minority —

Margaret Koval: Right.

Emily Carter: There are studies which show that unless you get to 30% of a certain type of person that type person is marginalized. What Julie did together with my director of communications, Steven Schultz, is to put together a beautiful messaging program which really was founded on research we did about what students care about, what their concerns are. And we focused on — we did data mining, we identified people we thought would have the talent to succeed at Princeton, and then we started sending these messages out. And I can tell you that this year the number of applicants to the School of Engineering who were underrepresented minorities went up by 46%. OK? So this is what can happen when you are intentional about building pools. And then finally on the faculty side we’re doing that intentional messaging as well. We’re reaching out proactively. That’s the plan is to start reaching out proactively to fourth- and fifth-year graduate students who, those are the people that will become the future faculty, to encourage them to think about us. And then what about the people who are here? Well, when I came in as dean, I realized that there were departments that had only one or two women faculty or, you know, one underrepresented minority faculty. And so I started networking meetings so that those faculty could meet each other across the school because a huge part of being a minority, either a woman or an underrepresented ethnic or racial minority, is that you feel isolated and you get discouraged. And so these networking meetings, I think, have been really good. We have ones for women faculty and ones for underrepresented minority faculty. And we talk about how we can improve the culture. And a lot of good things have come out from that. So yeah.

Margaret Koval: Yeah. Emily, we are out of time. It’s going to be very sad to see you go and thank you for everything you’ve done for Princeton. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you again back here. So thank you.

Emily Carter: I just want to say that, [music] you know, I love Princeton intensely. And my love affair with Princeton will never end.

Margaret Koval: That’s nice to hear.

Emily Carter: Yeah.

Margaret Koval: I want to say thank you also to our producer, Danielle Alio, and to our audio engineer, Dan Kearns. And to the listeners, please come back. We’ll have another fantastic interview with a Princeton woman in the near future.

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