Sue Cange is the Deputy Manager for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Office of Environmental Management. Sue is responsible for assisting the Manger in directing and overseeing the environmental cleanup of the Oak Ridge Reservation. This entails successfully managing the cleanup of three Manhattan-era sites including the former K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant now referred to as the East Tennessee Technology Park, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Y-12 National Security Complex. Over the past 21 years, Sue has held various leadership positions within the Department of Energy in Environmental Management, Nuclear Energy and Assets Utilization. In addition, Sue was one of the founding members in the development of the Reindustrialization Program in Oak Ridge which transitions underutilized assets to the private sector to accelerate cleanup and promote economic development. Sue also administered the agreements with the United States Enrichment Corporation to ensure the U.S.’s continued supply of enriched uranium and to establish a new technology to enrich uranium at lower cost. Prior to coming to Oak Ridge, Sue worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and in this capacity she helped to develop much of the policy and guidance that is still used today to govern environmental cleanup under the U.S.’s Superfund Program.
1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
I’m not sure that I would say that I was ever “inspired” to pursue a STEM-type job. Instead I would describe my decision to pursue engineering to be a byproduct of my upbringing. I owe my mother most of the credit for my decision to work in STEM. Because of her life experiences she encouraged me to pursue an education that would guarantee me a job. However, if you knew my mother you would know that that it was not enough to just be employable; instead, it was necessary that I secure a good-paying job that would allow me to support myself and if necessary, my family. Of course it didn’t hurt that I enjoyed science and math in high school -- probably because those subjects came easy to me. So I accepted the wisdom that my mother imparted to me and began to explore my options. Initially, I thought about pursuing a career in medicine but realized that by studying engineering I could secure a good paying job that would be rewarding in far less time than if I pursued medicine.
2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
The most rewarding thing about working at DOE is that I believe that I'm making a meaningful contribution to our country. DOE has many missions that are important to our country that will have an impact both today and in the future. Working at DOE provides a myriad of opportunities to serve, and most of them will improve our safety, our security, and our quality of life.
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
Our country is falling behind in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and therefore, it is more important than ever that young people are provided opportunities to obtain an education and experience in these areas of study. One way to accomplish this is to offer more incentives to those graduating from high school to obtain a college degree in one of these areas of study. A second opportunity is to offer internships that will allow young people the chance to experience the types of jobs that can be secured if they pursue a career in a STEM area of study. And a third way to engage more young people is to be a mentor and offer assistance and advice on career choices. One of the pivotal moments that helped me decide to pursue a degree in one of the STEM areas was an introduction to a woman who took the time to explain the benefits of a STEM education. I was introduced to her in my senior year of high school and was eager to listen to the advice that she provided.
4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
The STEM areas of study typically teach students problem solving techniques that can be used for many different applications. At best, the curriculums are challenging and they often can be difficult. In addition, the competition among students can be significant. Therefore, the advice that I have for someone looking to enter into a STEM career is to be prepared to work hard and to perform their work in a way that allows them to stand out. I also think that it's important to pick an area of study that you identify with and that you will find personally rewarding. When I was considering what type of engineering to pursue, I evaluated the options and quickly realized that I had more passion for environmental issues, and was interested in working on environmental solutions then the other types of disciplines being offered at my university.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
Because my job is rather demanding on my time and energy, I like to spend my free time relaxing! I enjoy reading fiction and have been in a book group for nearly 20 years, which gives me an opportunity to discuss good books with good friends. I also like to knit and do needlepoint and find that this is an excellent way to pass the time while listening to the radio or watching television. I especially like spending time with my family and friends, and am always looking for a new restaurant to try or a new movie to enjoy with someone. I also like to travel, and enjoy going to places that I’ve never been to before, both within the US and elsewhere.