Power Player: Stevens Degree Offers an Outlet for Success at Major Energy Utility
Project Manager Says Tech Emphasis at School of Business Resonates with Exelon's Culture of Innovation
There are lifelong learners, and then there is Pam Charleston.
When she received her diploma at commencement in May 2019, it was her third master's degree. That’s not counting her undergraduate work in biomedical engineering and her certification from the Project Management Institute.
“My background is in engineering, but as I’ve sought greater challenges and responsibilities, I’ve always looked for opportunities to keep learning — at work and through school,” she said.
She completed her most recent degree, in Enterprise Project Management, from Stevens Institute of Technology after being introduced to the university while taking required project management courses offered in collaboration with the School of Business while employed at Alcatel-Lucent. Today, as an IT manager and principal project manager in Exelon’s enterprise project delivery group, she said the technology focus of the EPM degree has helped her bring value to her role.
“My academic advisor worked with me to design a curriculum that would really speak to my professional interests,” Charleston said. “I was really interested in classes that combined project management perspectives with topics in information systems. So, for instance, I took IT strategy, which has been really useful to me.”
Exelon, one of the nation’s leading energy providers, prizes and promotes employee innovation through expos and other events. That culture can be seen throughout the company, which services 10 million customers throughout 48 states.
Making IT a driver of strategy
“Our group has a lot of visibility and engagement with the CIO, who encourages us to use technology to drive the strategy forward,” Charleston said. “The IT office isn’t just about keeping Microsoft Word running; it’s about connecting the day-to-day processes to the overall corporate vision and strategy. We live in a culture where people want answers right now, and technology enables us to do that.”
She pointed to developments like in-home smart meters and a mobile app for reporting outages, which enable two-way communication with customers that allows Exelon to be more responsive to power failures.
“If you report an outage on our app, we can assess whether the problem is isolated to you or is more widespread, which helps us tell you how quickly we expect you to be back online,” Charleston said. “Through technology and IT projects, we have both modernized the electric grid and improved the customer experience, which overall has led to a decrease in the lengths of customer outages. The utility business is highly competitive now, so we have to consistently improve the customer experience, and our group does that through technology.”
Being able to think about technology’s role in driving strategy helped her stand out in her Stevens classes, particularly those taught by Dr. Zvi Aronson, a researcher whose insights into project leadership and the role of culture in determining project successes have been published in some of the most influential academic and practitioners’ journals. Since Charleston is based in Chicago, she also valued Stevens’ commitment to an immersive online experience — as she put it, a virtual classroom instead of an online class.
An emphasis on real-world knowledge
“I like the combination of textbook knowledge with real-world experience that Stevens faculty have,” she said. “If you go to PMI, you’ll see books written by the professors here who teach in this program. But beyond that, their work has created some impact in the business world, and that helps you connect the dots and see where things are going.”
Dr. Aronson called Charleston “a very enthusiastic and extremely conscientious student” — she was inducted in the Beta Gamma Sigma honors society, the highest recognition a business student can receive — whose final paper went beyond expectations in drawing upon course content and her own experiences in leadership.
“Pam was always trying to apply the material to her work and organization, in terms of leadership development,” Dr. Aronson said. “In both the classes she took with me, the students worked in virtual teams, and Pam was able to passionately motivate her group as a natural leader.”
Charleston enjoys her work and the wide-ranging responsibilities it entails, but she’s interested in applying her technical insights and leadership experiences to the environmental side of Exelon, especially as national conversations about climate change and environmental stewardship focus on the role utilities can play in improving efficiency.
“Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been able to take something with me and roll it all together in becoming successful at different companies and in new roles,” she said. “Project management is a skill set that will never go to waste. The technology project side of environmental initiatives is the future — in utilities, and beyond.”