Illinois Commerce Commission chair promotes STEM for World STEM Day Nov. 8

  • Illinois Commerce Commission chairman Carrie Zalewski

    Illinois Commerce Commission chairman Carrie Zalewski

Updated 11/6/2020 8:55 PM

Science class, sixth grade. A quote, attributed to Albert Einstein, on the chalkboard: "Scientists investigate that which already is; Engineers create that which has never been." I reflected on those words and remember them now -- this was one of many small "a-ha" moments that motivated me to study engineering and chose the path I am on today.

Problem solving. That's what drives me as an engineer, attorney, civil servant, and mom. As we commemorate STEM Day on November 8th with the goal of encouraging school-aged children to be problem solvers through engaging with a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) curriculum.


My degree in engineering, earned from the University of Illinois, has been key to my career and now to my role as the State's Chief Economic Regulator of investor-owned electric, natural gas, and water utilities. At the U of I, I learned to "think like an engineer," apply creativity, and solve problems, both new and old. Indeed, the biggest problems we face in Illinois and the Unites States can only be solved by ensuring that the next generation has the tools to address them. The United States can hold its proud place of leadership in innovation and problem solving by implementing policies that encourage engineering education for our young students.

Some estimates show that 65% of children entering grade school today will have careers in jobs that do not exist yet. It is our responsibility to ensure the next generation can adapt to all sorts of complex problems that we cannot yet imagine. How do we spark the curiosity and motivation to solve complex challenges? We must further integrate STEM into classrooms at even earlier ages. Welcome questions. Many of them. All of them. As many as it takes to spark that "a-ha" moment. That is the key to creating a pipeline of talent in to our nation's workforce with a generational impact.

STEM emphasis is also a way to celebrate and cultivate the key character trait: grit. Grit is perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit cannot necessarily be taught, but we can create strategies to reveal and nurture it. Too often grit is hidden under the surface by a lack of confidence, shyness, fear of being wrong or standing out against peers. But if we treat grit as a muscle, repetitively strengthened and supported through careful guidance, our students will achieve muscle memory of reaching for their highest goals.

As the Chair of the Illinois Commerce Commission, I've embraced a culture of DIG -- Diversity Inspires Greatness. Studies show that companies that pursue racial and ethnic diversity outperform those that don't. Applying this same approach to regulation has allowed me to create a unique team with innovative ideas and new ways to approach problems. These "a-ha" moments are not restricted to school alone and, as we at the ICC solve problems, we seek to bring them to those we serve, as well. My team demonstrates the success we can gain by creating opportunities for everyone to pursue science and engineering, in the spirit of Einstein himself.

STEM, GRIT, and DIG constitute a recipe for success as we commemorate STEM Day on Nov. 8.

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