An interview with Charles Smith `86, Director for the Department of Energy’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. Check out his LinkedIn profile here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/charles-smith-36a49b126/ . Interview was conducted by Jason P. Mulderrig '18.
JPM: What did you study at Princeton? What was your senior thesis about?
CS: I attended Princeton from 1982 to 1986 and majored in Political Science. My time away from the classroom was spent competing on the track and sprint football teams. I was a member of the old Dial Lodge eating club. My senior thesis was an effort to define a morally acceptable framework for U.S. Intelligence Community activities.
JPM: What is your current job title?
CS: I currently serve as the Director for the Department of Energy’s Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. It relates to my college studies in so much in that it is a politically appointed position responsible for leading the agency’s efforts to contract and work with small and disadvantaged businesses.
JPM: Tell us about the day-to-day for your job?
CS: The Department of Energy is a fascinating place to work considering the agency’s history with its origins going back to the Manhattan Project through today where it is arguably the world’s leading science and technology research enterprise. I travel a lot to meet and educate small businesses on the agency’s missions and how these businesses can best identify and compete for contracting opportunities with the Department.
JPM: What has your overall career path been like? Why did you make specific pivots/switches in your career?
CS: After graduation I went to Officer Candidate School and served aboard a US Navy guided missile destroyer. I then left the Navy to pursue a career in government and politics. I have spent the last thirty years managing political campaigns, serving in appointed positions in New Jersey state government and working in the private sector doing business with local governments around the country. Through most of it I have lived in Princeton. I only moved to Washington this summer.
I don’t believe that I’ve made any specific pivots or switches in my career. I’ve held many different jobs for sure, but they’ve all been connected in some fashion and it has all felt like one seamless straight run.
JPM: In what ways did Princeton prepare you for what you are doing after graduation?
CS: The academic work at the University certainly armed me with a wealth of practical knowledge, but I’ve always felt that the most meaningful preparation I received at Princeton was experience in interacting, and working with super intelligent, talented, and driven people. That experience has helped me every day of my career.
JPM: What is the most surprising thing about energy that you have learned about since graduation?
CS: I graduated a long time ago. Many surprising things have happened since then. I never would have imagined the extent to which battery powered automobiles would become commonplace. And the advances made in photovoltaic energy generation have been amazing to me.
JPM: Is there anything in energy that currently excites you?
CS: My role at DOE allows me the opportunity to visit our network of national labs such as the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. There are exciting things going on at all of the National Labs. When I visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO earlier this year I had a chance to stop by the Solar Decathlon where competing teams of college undergraduate students design and build full size solar powered houses. I was blown away by the houses they built. It’s exciting to me to see what the next generation of great minds will do with energy.
JPM: Do you have a recommendation/tidbit of advice for current students?
CS: Nothing all that original I’m afraid. Relationships matter. I’ve been surprised at the number of times in my career when I have re-crossed paths with old friends, teachers, coaches, employers and former colleagues. These people have all been tremendous resources for me. And frankly, that’s how I got here at the Department of Energy.