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Women in Leadership: Dr. Amy Tuininga

Name: Amy Tuininga

Position: Director, PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies at Montclair State University

Degrees: BS, Botany (University of Washington, Seattle, WA); MS, Botany and Plant Pathology (Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR); PhD, Ecology and Evolution (Rutgers, New Brunswick, NJ)

Clubs/Programs You Advise/Created:

  • PSEG ISS Green Teams Program: Flagship program which bridges classrooms to careers. This internship helps students pursue career-like positions for the summer. Our program makes Green Team members ready for the job market while making the world a greener place. Students partner with corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies.

  • Supports MSU’s EnviroClub, USGBC Student Chapter

How/what brought you to the PSEG ISS Director position at Montclair State University?

I was looking for an opportunity to apply my skills to help a large number of people and the planet.


What do you do as the director of the PSEG ISS? What does a typical day look like?

I create opportunities for students, faculty, community groups, and corporations. I develop programs, events, and educational materials. We work to bring together the right groups of people to address sustainability issues and create solutions.

There are no typical days. Some days I am writing, some days teaching, some days meeting with individuals and groups in my office on campus, or in theirs. [I travel] on or off campus, [to] corporations, government agencies, and not-for-profit groups.


How did you know that your career was what you wanted to do for the rest of your life?

I still don’t know that, but the first day I got to get paid to put on hiking boots and go to work collecting field data on Devon Island (which was a temporary 10 week job after graduation as a field assistant), I felt like I won the lottery. 

(Devon Island, Northwest Territories, Canada)


In this position, I studied blue-green algae, and worked with an international team north of the magnetic pole. We had no electricity or running water. We were dropped there in a twin otter prop plane, and communicated by shortwave radio.  

(Devon Island, Northwest Territories, Canada)


When I returned from the arctic, I took a Lab Tech position. [Eventually], I made a decision to transition from teaching and mentoring students in my own lab full-time, to administrative work. It felt like the right thing to do. I was making more opportunities available to others, and I was incredibly lucky to have the chance to do so.


What opportunities/experiences did you have as an undergrad which helped you in your profession?

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute summer undergraduate internship was offered to me, being among a population of students who would otherwise not be able to do research in the summer, if they were not paid. As an undergraduate, through part-time jobs, I covered 70% of my tuition and cost of living. This internship which targeted underrepresented groups, allowed me to study Sedum and see the relationships between different species of plants. I took pictures of the pollen grains’ moonscape through a scanning electron microscope to compare the plant’s ancestry.

What is important about this experience is that students should look for one opportunity. Once you have one experience, you have a snowball effect, and more opportunities become available. Don’t say you’re too busy earning $10/hour to miss an opportunity to earn more long term connections/experiences.


What advice do you have for women entering the workforce?

Try as hard as you can to get where you want to go. Do your very best, and don’t hesitate to let others know about your accomplishments and your dreams. Always visualize what it is you want to achieve and make that a stretch beyond what you think is possible.


What advice do you have for underclassmen?

Take your classes seriously. You may not know now how they will contribute to your longer term goals and accomplishments, but everything counts. It comes together later.


What is your greatest accomplishment?

My daughter – I had her while coming up for tenure. [This is significant because] there is an incredibly low percentage of female STEM faculty who continue into higher positions (41% in Biological Sciences and as low as 1% in other STEM fields; AAUP report 2010).

[As cited in the AAUP report], as you move up in rank, for example, becoming tenured, there are lower percentages of females (22% in Biological Sciences and as low as 7% in other STEM fields). If you look at higher administrative positions, such as presidents, only 1-4 of these positions are held by women across all fields of study.

In 2001, I was the only female of the 18 person faculty in the Biological Sciences department at Fordham. For women who obtain higher degrees and positions, I recall a statistic of something like, only 13% have children. This leaves 2-3% of tenured Biological Sciences faculty with children – and this is a good statistic compared to other STEM disciplines! These numbers are even lower for women who have children and are coming up for tenure, and get promoted.

I thought getting my PhD was a huge accomplishment, and I thought becoming a tenure-track professor was really big, yet for me, having a child is the single greatest joy I have had.


Who is your favorite author?

I have two: Malcom Gladwell for Outliers and J.K. Rowling, because I loved reading every word of every Harry Potter book to my daughter.


What is your best memory at MSU?

Final presentations of the Summer 2016 Green Teams.

(2016 Green Team’s Final Presentations)


If tomorrow, you could change one thing at MSU, what would it be? 

Funding full scholarships for all deserving students, particularly those with financial need. Also, funding endowed chair faculty positions.


What words do you live by?

Take only memories, leave only footprints.

Always try your very best, ignore the bullies. Pay it forward.

Always leave things better than you found them.

If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Be honest. Reach for the stars.

Nothing is impossible. You can do this.

Senior English major obsessed with the culinary industry. I come from a large Italian-Polish family, and spend my time thinking about food. I collect books, enjoy learning American Sign Language, and binge-watching The Walking Dead.
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