Ralph Izzo (second from left) and his wife, Karen (left), tour Peddie's digital fabrication lab.
On the evening of May 16, 2019, the expansive, light-filled Izzo Design Laboratory was abuzz with activity. At the center was PSEG President and CEO Ralph Izzo; his wife, Karen; their children, Zachary and Emma ’15; and niece, Isabella King ’20. The event was a celebration of the Izzos’ unrestricted gift to Peddie’s endowment and the subsequent naming of the laboratory. It was also a valuable learning opportunity for Peddie’s Robotics Club, AP Environmental Studies students and the Peddie Environmental and Sustainability Team (PEST), as they engaged the Izzos in a lively roundtable discussion about environmental issues and concerns.
At the beginning of the event, the robotics students and Izzo Design Laboratory Director Scott Meredith led the group on a tour of the facility, which opened in 2015. There, students visualize, design and create as a team, studying topics such as engineering, mechanical design and manufacturing. The makerspace is also home to the Robotics Club, which builds and programs a 120-pound robot each year to compete at the FIRST Robotics Competition, the oldest and largest student robotics program in the world.
“It makes me want to come back to high school,” laughed Karen.
The facility’s design studio features 17 workstations loaded with computer-aided design software; an engineering studio with industrial equipment, including a CNC laser, mill, router and lathe, as well as 3D printers; lab tables for group work; and a spacious testing studio.
"Maybe you can do something for the math and science departments."
When the Izzos were considering a gift to Peddie’s endowment in 2018, Emma, a systems engineering student at the University of Pennsylvania, came to mind.
“She really valued her relationship with the faculty and the administration,” said Ralph, a member of Peddie’s board of trustees since 2015. “She spoke highly of her math and science teachers; she just had a great time in her physics and robotics classes and with Mr. Meredith. She was a huge fan of his.
“When we mentioned to Emma that we were thinking of philanthropy toward Peddie, she said, ‘Maybe you could do something for the math and science departments.’ She was fully involved in the decision making.”
The Izzos’ unrestricted gift allows Peddie the flexibility to apply it wherever the funds are needed most. After careful consideration, and in honor of their gift, the Izzos chose to name the digital fabrication laboratory, as the sciences had been such a powerful part of Emma’s Peddie experience.
Philanthropy — much like STEM — is an Izzo family tenet. Ralph defines it as “the desire to help others” and being “flat-out fortunate enough” to give back. “Peddie prides itself on accepting kids who don’t have access, and changing lives,” he said. “We wanted to let as many people have these opportunities as possible.”
Karen, a passionate animal advocate, is particularly vocal about philanthropy. “I get on my soapbox and tell my kids how important it is to give back. I tell them it’s not an option,” she said. “And it’s not necessarily monetary. You can volunteer. Do whatever you can do to give back on whatever level that speaks to you. And I tell them that when they are out there doing well, don’t forget Peddie.’ "
"We believe in Peddie."
Following the tour, the robotics team offered the family a chance to operate one of their hand-built robots. Emma and Zachary, a graduate student at Stanford University studying mathematical statistics and machine learning, each took it for a spin. Meanwhile, the robotics students chatted with the group, expressing pride in their work and enormous excitement for the program.
“It’s hard to put into words how much this space means to me,” said Srinidhi Baile ’19. “These people are my family.”
After the robot demonstration, the Izzos fielded questions from the PEST and AP Environmental Studies students, who raised issues about energy, climate change and more.
“What would it take to institute a carbon tax, and how can we as students educate the general public about all of the beneficial aspects of a carbon tax?” Jessica Cheng ’20 asked Ralph. “What do you think about the difference between the carbon cap and trade policy versus a carbon tax?”
“Wow, that’s a good question,” Ralph remarked, and opened the floor for debate. The students were impressed with Ralph’s approachability and candor, as were the Izzos with the students’ insight into complex environmental issues.
“They did such an amazing job,” said Karen of the students. “They were engaging and confident enough to ask and answer questions.”
Students also took advantage of Emma’s presence and asked how young adults can be advocates for the environment. Her answer was simple: “Educate as many people as possible and get out and vote.”
The evening also shined a light on generosity in practice and how it helps institutions grow. Ralph is gratified to see philanthropy at Peddie realized through strong alumni and parent engagement.
“I’m pleased to see much more emphasis being placed on alumni involvement,” he said. “I think it will help sustain Peddie. Peddie is growing in terms of technology and subject content across disciplines. It’s all reinforced by getting alumni involved, getting parents involved. That will only enable Peddie to grow in new ways. We enthusiastically encourage continued involvement on the part of alumni, especially when they realize the impact that the school had on their lives.”
Karen agreed. “We believe in Peddie.”