Princeton University awarded its James Madison Medal, the University’s highest honor for alumni who earned graduate degrees, to Lisa Jackson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Jackson, who earned a masters degree in chemical engineering at Princeton in 1986, accepted the award and delivered a talk at the University’s annual Alumni Day event.

In her address to an audience of hundreds of alumni at Richardson Auditorium, Jackson spoke not only about her role as EPA administrator but also about the need for more women in science. “I don’t believe the solution for women scientists is to acclimate themselves to a man’s world. I believe women should make their own space in science,” she said.

Noting that she originally had planned to pursue a medical career, she said she realized there were other ways to help people. “I was thinking about being a doctor because I wanted to help people by treating them when they got sick,” Jackson said. “I came to realize that – if I studied chemical engineering and started to work to protect our environment – I could help people by making sure they didn’t get sick in the first place.

Lisa Jacksion“I believe that bringing more women into science will represent an important change in the culture of science,” she said.

After her remarks, Jackson answered questions from the audience about how she could help change the thinking of those skeptical of climate change; global climate negotiations; the cleanup of New York’s Hudson River; how she balances life and career; and what technological innovations she sees as the most valuable for the future.

“Coming here set the trajectory for my entire life,” she said. “This university is where I had the opportunity to fully immerse myself in what became one of the greatest passions of my life – the exploration of science.”

William Russel and Lisa Jackson