By Kacey Fitzpatrick
March is Women’s History month and this year’s theme is “Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.” Working in EPA’s Office of Research and Development, I’ve gotten to meet quite a few women scientists and engineers who truly are helping us achieve a more perfect union. Some of them are featured here in this blog. To celebrate their dedication to science and protecting public health and the environment, we asked them to share a few words about what inspired them to pursue such work. Here’s what they said:
I loved math and particularly chemistry when I was younger. After listening to a panel of female engineers and scientists talk about their careers, I instantly found my calling!
—Rachelle Duvall, Research Physical Scientist
My dad. He dropped out of high school to join the Army Air Corps in World War II and then went back and got his GED and then an associate’s degree in refrigeration engineering. He always inspired me to pursue an education in science and engineering and took me along with him when he worked on refrigeration engineering projects at food plants.
—Kelly Witter, Environmental Engineer, Director of STEM Outreach
Originally it was the fact that I was good at mathematics and enjoyed it! I started out in an engineering program and after two years, realized my heart wasn’t into it. So I switched to environmental sciences, something that I had a personal connection with through my upbringing in the Pacific Northwest and spending lots of time hiking and outdoors.
—Lindsay Stanek, Physical Scientist
I like to problem solve, make discoveries, and figure out how different pieces need to be incorporated to make something work – whether that’s fixing the vacuum cleaner or making music.
—Nicolle Tulve, Research Physical Scientist
Seeing the work of my parents who were both physicians and public health science advocates. They conducted and taught research to examine the role of the environment as a critical determinant of health.
—Tina Bahadori, Exposure Scientist and National Program Director
I became interested in science, specifically biology and ecology, because I love to think about and study natural systems. I’m energized by collaborating with other scientists as we work to solve complex and important problems with real-world implications.
—Megan Fleming, Biologist
In 1995 while interning at EPA, I was a part of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems permit program. Being a part of that program opened my eyes to what was happening to the environment and that’s when I knew right then that I made a good decision in becoming a scientist.
—Ramona Sherman, Physical Scientist
In high school, I was inspired by my teachers and drawn to practical applications of math and science, so I decided to major in engineering.
—Valerie Zartarian, Environmental Engineer
I like using data to solve problems and answer questions. The scientific method provides a way to objectively answer questions about how or why something happens.
—Susan Burden, Physical Scientist
I wanted to become a scientist because I enjoy solving problems using logical reasonings and mathematical skills (not surprising with jigsaw puzzles being my favorite game).
—Cecilia Tan, Research Physical Scientist
From the time I was a kid I was always interested in health and originally thought about going into medicine. As time went on I realized that the broader field of science covered the wide range of my interests. Ultimately I became a toxicologist and started pretty early in my career at EPA working in the area of public health. This has allowed me to work on a wide range of topics, including the medical aspects that are still interesting to me.
—Samantha Jones, Toxicologist
In school I was always interested in my science classes. I had that yearning to know more about science but I didn’t have that ‘a-ha moment’ until I went to college and realized I also liked math and could be a chemical engineer.
—Diana Bless, Chemical Engineer
I really enjoyed my high school chemistry class. I understood what was being taught, loved the laboratory aspects and experiments we performed, and was fascinated by the scientific process and discovery. As I took more chemistry classes, the attraction never faded. I eventually honed in on analytical and environmental chemistry for its perfect combination: its instruments can answer all sorts of questions, the math appealed to me, and I knew that research for the environment could make a difference.
—Elin Ulrich, Research Chemist
I became interested in my field (bioethics) because of a desire to combine my interest in health sciences with an interest in the humanities. It seemed to me that promoting health was a matter of merging these two arenas, not studying one separately. And I think I was right!
—Toby Schonfeld, Human Subjects Research Review Official
I decided to go into chemical engineering because I enjoyed chemistry and math in high school and loved solving a variety of challenging problems. After graduating from college, my interest in environmental engineering grew from understanding the intersection of industry and environment. I was concerned about what I saw happening to the air and ocean in Los Angeles while working for an environmental engineering consulting firm.
—Larke Williams, Environmental Engineer
I always liked science but my tenth grade biology teacher Miss Collins was one of my major inspirations. She was a great role model – I think all my high school science teachers before and after her were men–and her enthusiasm for biology made the class fun.
—Carole Braverman, Regional Science Liaison
I wanted to become a scientist because I wanted to do research that would help make people’s lives better.
—Jill Hoelle, Biological Science Lab Tech
As a kid I loved playing outside, hiking, camping, swimming in lakes and catching crawdads in the creek in our back yard. In college I loved chemistry and botany, so I was thrilled to learn that environmental chemistry combined these two areas and allowed me to use my interests and passion to inform environmental policy and management.
—Jana Compton, Research Ecologist
I decided to go into the engineering field because I wanted to make a change for the positive in my environment. Smart growth and Smart design concepts are generally urban concepts that I wanted to bring into the rural mid-west. I continue to have an interest in designing facilities and cities in a way in which people can work, play, and recreate all in the same locale without the high cost of “toxic transportation.” The more that we can reduce the need for gasoline and other toxics that continue to load our environment, the more sustainable we will make this world for our children.
—Stephanie Warhol, Program Analyst
I developed a passion for civil engineering in college—in one college major I could learn all the important engineering elements behind what makes a modern city work! I loved it all —from learning how bridges are designed to how water systems work.
—Gayle Hagler, Environmental Engineer
I was fortunate to have a number of wonderful teachers and mentors throughout my education. With their encouragement, I realized that I enjoyed the challenge of asking questions and finding solutions. With the fundamentals of physics and chemistry so many questions can be addressed!
—Sherri Hunt, Physical Scientist
I have always had an interest in and love of animal and plant life, as well as for building things. Together with those passions, my enjoyment of biology, chemistry, physics, and math quickly became the foundation of my school studies.
—Felicia Barnett, Environmental Engineer
As a veterinarian, I am passionate about the health and well-being of animals including endangered species. Thus, environmental or “habitat” protection, the core of the EPA’s mission, is right in line with my interests.
—Janice Dye, Research Biologist
Being an engineer allows me to combine my interests in science and math and work on problems whose solutions can improve the world.
—Havala Pye, Research Physical Scientist
About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development. She became interested in science communication because she wanted to understand what her mom (a toxicologist) was talking about.