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Interview with Jeanne Mroczko

15 Aug 2017 11:20 AM | Anne Lazo (Administrator)

When Jerry English was awarded NJSWEP’s 2011 “Growing Great Women in the Garden State” award, she challenged NJSWEP to pay it forward to the next generation of women in the environmental field and “Don’t let them get trapped in amber.”

We were inspired by Jerry English’s challenge, and in response, NJSWEP is surveying leaders and role models in the environmental industry, asking them to share their insights, wisdom and experiences with our members so they don’t get trapped in amber.  Our first interview is with Jeanne Mroczko, Retired NJDEP Director of Parks & Forestry, NJSWEP Co-Chair Emeritus, and 2017 Growing Great Women in the Garden State Award Winner. 

This is the first interview of many to come, so stay tuned!

Jeanne Mroczko, Retired NJDEP Director of Parks & Forestry, NJSWEP Co-Chair Emeritus, and 2017 Growing Great Women in the Garden State Award Winner.

1. What challenges have you faced in reaching your current position/title/occupation, and how did you overcome them?

My last position was the most challenging of my 25+ years as an at-will appointee in state government. I was asked by the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to serve first as deputy director and then director of the Division of Parks and Forestry. This was during a very stressful time for the agency, as the park rangers had recently been reorganized (after many years, they no longer reported to a park superintendent, and were now known as the State Park Police, under a different chain of command). The state was also in the throes of budget cuts and layoffs were imminent, so the entire organization was in an uproar. I was the first woman to hold the title of director in a predominately male workplace, and came from 'outside' the parks and forestry programs, which certainly caused a certain amount of anxiety among the staff and managers. At times, I had to deal with negativity, obstinance, and outright hostility. My strategy was to share information with staff as soon as possible, even if there were no definitive answers to their questions. I travelled around the state, meeting face-to-face with staff. I did my homework, and learned what issues and concerns were important to each of the program areas, and did my best to remove obstacles and foster relationships with and between the programs I oversaw. I also never made promises I couldn't keep and often diffused tense situations with humor.

2. Did you have a formal/informal mentor?

I was extremely fortunate to have several informal and formal mentors throughout my career, both male and female. Very early in my career, I prepared pre-sentence reports for Superior Court judges and worked for a very demanding perfectionist, who accepted no mistakes (and this was before the era of spell check!). The editing and proofreading skills I learned from her serve me well to this day. Another great mentor taught me how to read a room, to 'look below the surface' and not to rely on face value; to assess who was aligned with whom, to ferret out hidden agendas, etc. Yet another mentor was very generous in devising opportunities for me to make my voice heard, to take the lead in meetings, and to become a team player rather than sitting on the sidelines.

3. What three life experiences have influenced you?

My stable, middle class family, which emphasized education and public service (my Dad was a police officer), working hard for what you wanted (there is no such thing as a 'free lunch', Jeanne Ann!), and being the oldest of 5 siblings (I learned how to be a 'boss' early on!).

Coming of age during the rise of the feminist movement in the 1960s and 1970s made me confident in my abilities and not at all afraid to disagree with or challenge my male counterparts. I remember being asked by a male colleague, "Why do you work? Your husband has a good job and you are taking a job away from a man." I was flabbergasted to be asked that question in the mid-1990s, and was quick to advise him that I had a brain and talents and contributions to make in the workplace.

Working in the field of conflict resolution throughout my career has taught me the importance of dealing with contentious issues head-on, the value of seeing all sides of an issue, and the belief that there is always a solution to the problem- you just have to find it!

4. What is the relationship between your success and luck?

Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favors the prepared mind." If luck means being in the right place at the right time, then I was lucky when my first mentor encouraged me to leave a civil service position in New Brunswick to take a job she was leaving at the Public Advocate's Office in big, bad Trenton, which is where I honed my conflict resolution skills. To me, luck was having my husband toss the New York Times job announcements over at me 28-odd years ago, saying, "Someone is looking for you, babe", and earning the chance to interview at the DEP for the position of Director of the Office of Public Participation.

But my long-term success at the agency was due to my ability to navigate a technical world as a non-technical person, the hard work of learning the issues and the large and small 'p's' of the political environment, developing a thick skin, being able to roll with the punches and stepping up to the plate when required (whew - that's a lot of clichés). I would say that 'pluck' was as influential as luck in my career. I absolutely adored all of the Shirley Temple movies growing up, and guess I assimilated her plucky, can-do attitude as my modus operandi.

5. What is your short, three-priority mission statement?

  • Always say a kind word or make a nice gesture when you can
  • Keep your word
  • Always leave 'em laughing
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