Igniting diversity, dismantling barriers: A fireside chat with Board of Trustee Dr. Willis Mackey   

To celebrate the closing of Black History Month, the Alamo Region’s American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) held a fireside chat at CPS Energy Headquarters with Trustee Dr. Willis Mackey, who is a supporter of developing and mentoring minority leaders in the energy industry.  

Below is an excerpt of the question-and-answer part of the discussion that was moderated by Brandy Russell, Project Lead in Corporate Responsibility, and included the participation of Chris Knox, CPS Energy’s Senior Manager of Security Resiliency and member of the AABE scholarship committee.  

A photo of Dr. Mackey with other community leaders at the Fireside Chat event

Question: How can we encourage African American students to pursue STEM and the energy industry? 

Trustee Dr. Willis Mackey: We must encourage schools to introduce STEM subjects early in the curriculum by providing hands-on learning experiences. Experiential learning can spark young students’ interest and curiosity in STEM. Additionally, students should be offered opportunities for job shadowing programs and industry visits. Exposing students to real-world applications of STEM concepts can help them understand the relevance of these subjects and the potential career paths available in the energy sector.  

Chris Knox: One of the things that stands out for me is that the kids don’t understand STEM because they don’t see people doing the work. They ask themselves, ‘Why would I want to work in science? And technology sounds hard, so why would I want to get into it?’  

It’s amazing the number of kids that work with computers and think that it’s difficult to go into the computer industry. This is the challenge schools are facing.  It was hard when we went to school but look at us! We are here in a company (CPS Energy) that thrives on it (STEM), and we are adding value.

So, one of the things that I’ve learned is to help people see science, engineering, and technology from where they are at. It doesn’t matter what your interests are, you can still work in those industries. People will hire you because you can do something else that helps that business. 

Question: How does boardroom diversity benefit CPS Energy and the community?  

Trustee Dr. Willis Mackey: Having a diverse group of board members can help better represent the interests and needs of various stakeholders such as employees, customers, shareholders, and community members. This deeper understanding allows the board to make more informed decisions that align with the priorities and values of the communities served by the organization. Additionally, diversity fosters a culture of innovation and adaptability by encouraging the exploration of new ideas, approaches, and opportunities. Board members from diverse backgrounds bring unique insights and experiences that inspire creativity and drive improvement to position the organization for success in a changing business environment. 

Chris Knox: We have to have an appreciation for the diverse perspectives. I will say that things are changing, and perspectives are changing. Diversity of perspective is being brought to teams and we need to understand those different perspectives so they can make us succeed.  

The American Association of Blacks in Energy was established to provide input into energy policies and develop leadership for African American employees. The local chapter, which includes CPS Energy employees, serves as a community beacon to provide opportunities for Black and minority students in STEM and Energy. As part of this mission, the Alamo Region chapter has raised over $11,000 in scholarships to help African American students embark on STEM careers. 

To learn more about the CPS Energy Board of Trustees and Dr. Willis Mackey, visit here.  

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