Women in Science

Women in Science: Innovative Girl Power Impacts U.S. Workforce – You Can Too!

By Barbara Bennett

For Women’s History Month, I’d like to celebrate the importance of women in the work force.  In 2009, women accounted for 51 percent of all people employed in management, professional, and related occupations.  In 2007, there were 7.8 million women-owned businesses with receipts totaling $1.2 trillion. Over 140,000 of those businesses had revenues of $1 million or more and over 7,600 had 100 or more employees.  Talk about Girl Power!

We still have progress to make.  Only 3 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs and women make up only 16 percent of the current 112th U.S. Congress.  Yet I think it’s important for us to remember that our career is as much a journey as it is a destination.

During my years in private industry, I didn’t anticipate a future career at EPA.  I realize, however, that the intersection of environmental research, green infrastructure and private markets for technological innovation are all initiatives that draw strength from both private and public sectors; neither one should be doing it alone when leveraging each other’s strengths works to the benefit of all. I am proud to be here as EPA’s Chief Financial Officer and I have found many opportunities speak to private industry about “green” investment.

No matter what career path you have chosen or are considering, I encourage you to bridge the gaps, connect the dots, and reach out to your peers in old or new career paths in search of new knowledge, or existing knowledge that can be applied in new ways.  Go ahead, take a chance, try a new idea….women scientists, and women in all fields, are in such a great position today to pursue new innovations for the benefit of society and the economy.

About the author: Barbara Bennett is the Chief Financial Officer for EPA. Prior to joining the Agency, she served as Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Discovery Communications, Inc.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Women In Science: Women’s History Month – New Generation, New Innovation

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Lyndee Collins

In honor of Women’s History Month, I felt it was appropriate to honor a woman who is a distinguished innovator and inspiration to students like me. Last Monday, I had the honor to speak with Amy Mueller, co-founder of STG International and 2008 EPA People, Prosperity, and the Planet (P3) Award winner, where we discussed her recent achievements, her P3 experience, and her life as a young scientist and entrepreneur.

In the 2008 P3 competition, Mueller and her team introduced the Solar Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC), a system combining mirrored solar panels and an engine that converts the collected heat to electricity. The system is both affordable and a sustainable alternative to the common diesel generator. The design requires only readily-available, low-cost parts, such as those used in the air conditioning industry, making it ideal for encouraging development in difficult economies.

Though Ms Mueller and her team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) continue to refine their design, their idea has already changed. Since 2006, Ms Mueller and her team have installed and tested several generations of prototype systems across Lesotho, Africa, where they have trained local partners in the design and construction of their system. Their most recent prototype, installed at a clinic in the Berea district, provides larger quantities of electricity and water to meet the needs of the medical staff as they serve 50-80 patients per day.

Ms. Mueller loves that her education has provided her the opportunity to help others. She views science and engineering as powerful tools for making a difference in the world. Her advice for young women interested in science is to be interdisciplinary – learn about multiple fields of science to help you work better in a team on big projects – and try to find an inspiring mentor who can give you support and advice.

After speaking with Ms Mueller, I am particularly looking forward to this year’s P3 competition, April 15 – 17 on the National Mall. The event will take place during the EPA Earth Day celebration, where 55 new teams will compete for P3 Awards just as Amy did three years ago. The public is invited to engage the student teams, hear about their exciting research, and meet the latest generation of women out to change the world.

About the Author: Lyndee Collins is an undergraduate intern from Indiana University currently working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Women in Science: Learning the Science to Protect the Planet

By Mary Wigginton

Right now, Cynthia Nolt-Helms is up to her blue eyes in the never ending roll of logistic details needed to run EPA’s annual P3 Award, a college competition for sustainability.

With her team, Cynthia produces EPA’s Earth Day event on the National Mall in Washington, DC. But tents, tables and talking points are not the usual stuff of scientific pursuits, so you have to wonder. What is a nice, environmental toxicologist doing in a job like this?

Cynthia doesn’t remember a particular moment in her life when she decided to be a scientist. Her dad was a scientist and she was good at it growing up. But she does remember wanting to protect the planet at an early age.

“Since I grew up in Oregon and collected beer bottles for a two-cent refund when very few states offered bottle refunds, I can remember being very proud of my state’s environmental ethic. Growing up in Oregon, I developed a real appreciation for the environment and that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. Science seemed like a good way to work for the environment.”

With a double major in chemistry and biology from Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, Cynthia won a scholarship to Cornell University to study environmental toxicology and public policy. For her graduate thesis she studied the movement of toxic chemicals in plants and their effect on plant growth at EPA’s lab in Corvallis, Oregon. But the local lab experience followed by a two-year stint working on public policy for a church organization started Cynthia to thinking that what she really wanted her life’s work to be about was protecting the environment on the national scale.

Cynthia applied to, and was hired for, a job in EPA’s Office of Water in Washington, DC. From that first job, and through most of her EPA career, Cynthia focused on water issues.

“I have a scientific background but I’m more attracted to the policy implications and how one works with science,” she said.
Years later when the opportunity came up to manage EPA’s P3 Program, Cynthia went for it. She recognized the program’s value for promoting innovation and collaboration to solve problems in the real world.

And that is how she has come to this day, coordinating all the details for a successful competition and life-changing experience for the students who want to protect the planet today, much like she did years ago as a little girl in Oregon.

If you are in town April 15 – 17, join Cynthia and more than 350 college students on the National Mall and you will be amazed by the students’ energy and creativity of their projects.

About the author: Mary Wigginton is a science writer and communications director for EPA’s P3 Program.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Women in Science: EPA Reaching Out To Empower Women Around The World

By Michelle DePass

I am not a scientist, but in the world of environmental policy, science is a part of our everyday discussions and decisions. So I’m happy to help carry the message about the importance of promoting science and technology as the key to moving forward an agenda as large as protecting human health and the environment, meeting the needs of growing and rapidly urbanizing populations and increasing employment. We know that as we look to use science and technology to drive economic development and resolve health and environmental challenges, we must also ensure that our approach supports our goals for women’s equality.

Two weeks ago, I was thrilled to join Administrator Jackson, leading women scientists in Ethiopia and students pursuing science degrees at the Addis Ababa University to highlight the achievements of women scientists and the role science policy can play in helping solve the most challenging environmental and public health issues of our time.

DePasse2At the same time Administrator Jackson and I were having a conversation with future women leaders in Ethiopia, our colleagues from across the world came together to discuss the importance of promoting women in science and celebrate the launch of the new United Nations agency called ‘UN Women’. The establishment of UN Women reflects a shared global concern with the slow pace of change. We all know that it is no longer acceptable to live in a world where girls do not have equal access to education, where women’s employment opportunities are limited and where the threat of gender-based violence is a daily reality — at home, at school and at work.

To continue this global conversation on the role of women in science, on March 8, International Women’s Day, Administrator Jackson joined two leading women scientists from Indonesia for a live web chat with participants from Jakarta and the U.S. It was inspiring to hear how women in science around the world face similar challenges, but also share the same optimism for the future.

Together with colleagues from across the U.S. government and around the world, we at EPA will work to highlight the efforts of this generation of women leaders – and, I hope, by tirelessly promoting women’s access to education and science-based careers — inspire the next generation.

About the author: Michelle DePass is EPA’s Assistant Administrator for International and Tribal Affairs and continues to be a leading voice on expanding environmental justice in less advantaged communities here at home and in countries around the world.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Women in Science: Kelly Leovic, Principal for a Day

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Kelly Leovic

EPA employees in Research Triangle Park, NC love sharing their expertise and enthusiasm for the environment and STEM (science, technology, engineering, & math). Last year, nearly 200 of EPA-RTP’s 1,400 employees spent nearly 3,000 hours reaching over 38,000 participants at 203 events, including K-12 classroom presentations, career days, festivals, student mentoring and campus tours.

As part of our community outreach, we participate on the Durham Public Schools Business Advisory Council (BAC), which builds long-term partnerships between businesses and schools. On February 8, the BAC launched its Principal for a Day Program — sending business leaders and elected officials into the schools.

I was excited, yet a bit nervous. Shaneeka Moore-Lawrence, the energetic Principal at Bethesda Elementary handed me her walkie-talkie as we dashed from the car line to our shift at bus arrival. I sensed this was not going to be a shadowing experience, as my gracious host stepped back and left me in charge.

Next were the Pledge and Morning Announcements. If you look at this link, you see me in the pink shirt getting ready – note how much calmer the Principal appears.  After announcements, we visited most of the 31 classrooms at Bethesda. I tried to emulate Shaneeka’s positive behavior and classroom engagement, and my experience grew more rewarding the more involved I became.

Reading The Lorax to a 1st grade class was a highlight because it is my favorite children’s book and, now that my kids are older, I welcome the opportunity to share the sad, yet hopeful story with any audience. My most embarrassing moment was in music when I realized that the kids were going to notice if I lip-synced, so I sang along with the class. I was relieved that this was not included on the video!

I was truly humbled by being Principal for a Day and think that everyone should try it in order to experience the great things happening in our schools and understand the challenges that Principals are faced with, and all of the roles they play in running a successful school with a diverse population. I look forward to returning soon to do science activities and read EPA’s new air quality book, Why is Coco Orange?

I learned some valuable lessons in school on February 8, and encourage all EPA employees to take the initiative to become involved in our schools and inspire the next generation to protect human health and the environment.

About the author: Kelly Leovic manages EPA’s STEM & Environmental Outreach Program in Research Triangle Park and has worked for the EPA as an environmental engineer since 1987. She has three children, two in middle and one in high school, who were all very relieved that she was not assigned to their school.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Women in Science: Montira Pongsiri

By Marguerite Huber

As part of Women’s History Month, I recently spoke with EPA scientist (and occasional Greenversations blogger) Montira Pongsiri, who studies the connections between environmental change and human health.

Dr. Pongsiri focuses on the benefits that healthy ecosystems provide, and how changes we make to the environment affect our health. Things that we do to change the environment, such as climate change and deforestation, can lead to changes in biodiversity, which in turn can affect the transmission of human disease. She is studying these relationships, and from that understanding, working with colleagues to identify tools and strategies to better manage and protect ecosystems and reduce risks to public health.

After studying neuroscience, Pongsiri went on to complete graduate work in environmental sciences and infectious diseases epidemiology at Yale. She was attracted to the discipline of science in approaching and solving problems, but I was amazed to learn that Dr. Pongsiri had not envisioned a career in environmental science until her later graduate school years. It was at that time that she met an environmental risk and policy professor who influenced her to change direction and bridge the connections between environment and human health. It didn’t help that the environment and public health programs were on opposite ends of campus.

In her dissertation work, she studied the tradeoffs between the use of pesticides and malaria. Coming to EPA out of graduate school, Dr. Pongsiri found that EPA challenged her to think about how science can be applied to solve real world problems. She enjoys working with a committed team to address issues at the intersection of ecosystems and human health through the Biodiversity and Human Health initiative, which is the first of its kind at EPA.

“People value good ideas, especially innovative ideas that come from a diverse set of perspectives that can help solve longstanding problems,” Pongsiri said. She believes that it is up to scientists to play a primary role in getting more girls involved with science. They need to be able to show how their work benefits society, from the individual to the community. Additionally, teachers have a responsibility to peak their interest, as her professor did for her. Had it not been for him, she would be working in a different field. Good thing, because we need scientists out there working on environmental health issues, especially because this is something that affects us all.

About the author: Marguerite Huber is an intern from Indiana University currently working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Women in Science: Clean Air and Women’s Health

By Gina McCarthy

For Women’s History Month, I wouldn’t be doing my part if I didn’t get you to think a little about clean air and how important it is to women in the U.S. and all over the world.

We’ve made great progress in cleaning the air in this country over the past 40 years. In 2010 alone, the Clean Air Act prevented 160,000 premature deaths, 1.7 million cases of aggravated asthma and 16.2 million missed school and work days. But we have a long way to go before we can claim success – the stakes are just too high. Breathing dirty air means spending time at home caring for a sick child, spending too much money on medical bills, and spending too much time indoors when the ozone threat is high.

But, compared to other countries, we have a lot to celebrate. Did you know that almost half of the world’s population – mostly women – uses open fires or old and inefficient stoves to cook their meals? Many cook with their babies in a sling, on their backs or by their side, where both mother and baby breathe in the billowing smoke, causing pneumonia, chronic respiratory diseases, lung cancer and a range of other health problems – killing nearly 2 million people each year. That’s more than twice the number from malaria. And to make matters worse, too many women and children spend countless hours every day gathering wood or other fuel in conflict areas where they face unspeakable threats.

But this doesn’t need to be the case. Clean cookstoves can be produced at low cost today and EPA is helping to lead an international effort called the Partnership for Clean Indoor Air (PCIA), to get clean cookstoves into the hands of the women who need them. But PCIA does more than promote clean air, it helps grow local economies and empower women all across the world. Now, about 5 million stoves are being replaced every year and more than half are purchased by families from local entrepreneurs – many of whom are women.

Last year I was so proud to be in New York when two women – EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – made history by launching the Global Cookstove Alliance. The Alliance brings $50M in funding from the US government to take this effort to the next level.

Safer, healthier and more efficient stoves don’t just save lives, they unlock the potential of women. And, as Madeline Albright once said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help women,” so get busy and lend your voice and support to this effort!

Stay tuned to Greenversations throughout Women’s History Month and check out the White House website.

About the author: Gina McCarthy is the Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation and is a leading advocate for comprehensive strategies to confront climate change and strengthen our green economy.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Science Wednesday: A Family’s Support Goes Far for a Passionate Woman Scientist

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Sarah Blau

As part of Women’s History Month, I’ve been talking to EPA women scientists about their work. Recently, I spoke with Mary Kentula, a wetland ecologist from Corvallis, Oregon.

First, I curiously asked what she wanted to be when she was young.

“Well, I wanted to either be a hair dresser, work in a clothing department store, or be a secretary,” Kentula recalled, laughing.

To my astonishment, she explained that she grew up as a coal miner’s daughter in a small town in Pennsylvania. Most women in this town were stay-at-home mothers. Those who worked were hairdressers, store clerks, or secretaries.

Kentula’s interest in science originally came from her family. Her mother and maternal grandfather had a passion for the natural world, and Kentula shared this passion from an early age. In fact, when Kentula started biology in college, she realized she was already familiar with the topics because whenever something in nature had sparked her interest, she would ask her grandfather or look it up in his books.

When I switched the subject from her childhood to her current work at EPA, I could tell right away that Kentula is passionate about her work. While her job requires a fair amount of administrative tasks, Kentula loves hands-on science and often ventures to the field to experience first-hand what her fellow researchers are doing. She loves the cooperative efforts that EPA encourages and her ability to bring together multi-disciplinary teams with a variety of people.

With pride, Kentula explained how her wetlands research has helped inform national policy. Also, in 2007 she received an award from the Society of Wetland Scientists.

Now, as EPA prepares for a massive wetlands survey to be completed in 2011, Kentula can see that there is growing expertise across the nation regarding wetlands monitoring and assessment. She feels that her research has helped to encourage this movement.

Kentula continues to gain support from her family. Often when she works, she thinks to herself, “What would my parents think about this? Would they think it’s important?” She often uses her parents as a yardstick to measure the importance of her research and to bring her encouragement in her daily work.

It is clear from the tone of her voice and the excitement I hear when she speaks of wetlands research that Kentula has grown beyond her early notions of what careers were open to her and is now doing what she loves.

About the author: Writer Sarah Blau is a student services contractor working with EPA’s science communication team.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Women In Science: Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

By Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

March 1 is the first day of Women’s History Month, and EPA is celebrating by sharing the stories and perspectives of many talented women within our ranks. Over the next 30 days, this page will feature blogs by women scientists, engineers, and leaders who play an important role in helping EPA protect the health of the American people.

There is no doubt that environmental protection would not be where it is today without the extraordinary, groundbreaking work of amazing women. In the 1930s, a woman named Rosalie Edge showed people the importance of preservation and environmental protection. Edge was a pioneer who made it possible for others like Sylvia Earle, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Jane Goodall to emerge as leading advocates for protecting health and the environment. Rachel Carson – a scientist – authored the book Silent Spring that changed environmentalism forever. It is no coincidence that her book was published in the early 1960s, and by 1970 we had a federal Environmental Protection Agency.

photo of EPA Administrator Jackson touring EPA's Cincinnati lab.

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson at EPA's environmental research center in Cincinnati.

These women were an inspiration to today’s generation of women scientists – including myself. I majored in chemical engineering at Tulane University in my hometown of New Orleans, and received a master’s degree in Engineering at Princeton University before joining EPA as a staff level in 1987. It was a time when very few women were studying and working in scientific and engineering fields. When I graduated from Princeton, I was one of only two women in my class. I felt a call to service and to issues of health, and wanted to use my technical degree to make a difference in the world around me. I originally wanted to become a doctor to help people when they fell sick. While studying chemical engineering, I realized that I could use my scientific training to clean up or prevent pollution in our communities, helping people by ensuring they didn’t get sick in the first place.

Over time I witnessed the changes that took place and the doors that opened – not just to me but to all women. According to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, around 154,000 women were pursuing masters degrees in science and engineering when I was in school. By 2003, that number jumped to around 270,000. Fifty years ago, women earned less than 10 percent of the science and engineering doctorates awarded in the United States. By 2006, that number climbed to 40 percent.

Scientific and technical advances are the foundations of our progress and prosperity. As the head of the government agency responsible for protecting human health and the environment, I’ve made clear that every decision we make on environmental issues must be guided by the best science possible.

The extraordinary women who work as researchers, technical experts, engineers, leaders and scientists at EPA give us the information we need to build the best health and environmental protections for the American people. I am proud to call them my colleagues, and I look forward to reading their contributions as we mark Women’s History Month with our series on women scientists at EPA.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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