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Spotlight on Commerce: Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary and Administrator for NOAA

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Dr. Lubchenco Oversees Seafood Sampling After the Deepwater Horizon Spill

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco is the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

At NOAA, science underpins all that we do. One reason that I am so proud to serve as the under secretary for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator is the track record of excellent science at our agency, our focus on delivering essential services based on that science, and the Obama Administration’s commitment to making policy and management decisions informed by the best science available.  

When I first met with then President-elect Obama in mid-December 2008, we discussed ways that NOAA could provide America the best climate change science, restore her ocean’s vitality, provide the best possible weather forecasts and disaster warnings, and help our nation transition to more sustainable ways of living. After asking some very perceptive questions, his comment was simply, “Let’s do it!” Now, how refreshing is that?

As NOAA administrator, my responsibilities include promoting and enabling the science of oceans and the atmosphere; using science to provide services to save lives and property and enable the creation of jobs; and using science in our mission to be good stewards of oceans, coasts, the atmosphere and the planet.  

In January, during his State of the Union address, President Obama challenged all Americans to “win the future” by out-innovating, out-educating, and out-building nations around the world. Never before has science had a greater role to play in stimulating the economy, creating new jobs and improving the health, security and prosperity of all Americans.

As one of the nation’s premier science agencies, NOAA is charged with supporting America’s businesses, communities and families through science, service and stewardship. Our priorities now and over the next year focus on:

  • Improving prediction of high-impact weather and water forecasts;
  • Supporting sustainable oceans, fisheries and communities;
  • Providing critical investments in satellites and sensors to further NOAA’s observational mission;
  • Maintaining and expanding the technical infrastructure that supports NOAA’s mission; and
  • Proposing a NOAA reorganization to establish a climate service and strengthen science.

We are also making targeted investments in the next generation of research and informational products to meet the growing demand for NOAA’s critical services — from improving response and restoration for oil spills and transforming fisheries to advancing aviation weather forecasting and expanding clean, renewable energy research.

Women, science and the importance of sharing our stories

In observance of Women’s History Month, it’s fitting to recognize that the President’s senior science team is composed of a number of top-flight scientists who are women: Consider Kerri-Ann Jones at the Department of State, Marcia McNutt at the U.S. Geological Survey, and Lori Garver at NASA. My colleagues are hardworking, superbly qualified women who illustrate the high caliber of leaders President Obama has recruited.

And, like generations of women before us, each has her own story. Here’s an abridged version of mine.

I am extraordinarily fortunate to have been raised in a family that has long valued women as individuals, as professionals and as mothers. My paternal grandmother was the first woman to graduate from the University of North Carolina Medical School. The year was 1912 — yes, 1912!  

“We just don't accept women,” the dean of admissions repeatedly told her. But her persistence, force of personality and sense of humor finally either changed the dean's mind or simply wore him down. Either way, she flourished in medical school, went on to practice medicine in czarist Russia, escape with her husband and three young children in 1917 from a country in revolution, and then start a new life and practice in rural South Carolina.

Her son, my father, also grew up to be a physician. He and my mother, a pediatrician, met in Denver during the Second World War. She survived polio as a toddler and went on to blaze trails throughout her life. Together they cared for countless patients and their families while raising six active and energetic daughters. 

Thus, it’s no surprise that my sisters and I were raised with a strong heritage of empowerment. This is not to say that we never encountered obstacles, but from our youngest days we were encouraged to embrace challenges and find solutions. I am grateful to my mom and grandmothers and all the women before me whose perseverance, strength and humor broke down formidable barriers and opened up the many opportunities available to today’s women.

At NOAA, we have award-winning and trailblazing senior women scientists as well as numerous talented younger women scientists. Yet, we must do much more to hire and support emerging and established scientists and non-scientists who reflect the brilliant mosaic that is America.

Innovation starts with opening doors to education

President Obama has spoken often about the need to “educate to innovate,” and he launched an ambitious nationwide program of the same name to encourage America’s youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. The president’s science team recognized early on that “winning the future” requires cultivating a new workforce of scientists who will be equipped to deliver the next generation of science, services and stewardship the nation will need to confront the challenges posed by a changing climate and planet.

At NOAA, we offer a number of programs that support educational opportunities for young women and men in pursuit of careers in the sciences, including the Dr. Nancy S. Foster Scholarship Program, EPP Graduate Sciences Program, EPP Undergraduate Scholarship Program and Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship Program. Under my leadership, we are continually strengthening these programs to create more robust experiences for our young scientists and vibrant career paths for all of our scientists.

Equipping today’s girls for tomorrow’s world

I recently became a grandmother for the first time. Although I take great pride in the wonderful students I’ve mentored in my teaching career, this is different. I’m thinking about how I can help my new granddaughter thrive and navigate life in a complex world.

Beyond loving her unequivocally, I will support her parents in giving her opportunities to discover and believe in herself; to value service to others; to be resourceful; and, when life throws up roadblocks, to draw from an inner well of resiliency passed down to her from her grandparents and great-grandparents.

Maybe one day, during my lifetime or hers, we won’t need a monthly observance like Women’s History Month to remind us of the ongoing contributions of nearly 51 percent of the nation’s population.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying leading NOAA in an era where scientific and technological innovation is playing a leading role in our nation’s economic recovery. It is truly an exciting time to be a scientist, to be a woman and to be a public servant in the Obama Administration.

Dr. Lubchenco Dr. Lubchenco On the Tarmac After a Flyover of the Deepwater Horizon Spill Dr. Lubchenco and ADM Thad Allen, USCG (ret.) release rehabilitated sea turtles off the coast of Cedar Key, Fla. Dr. Lubchenco Inspecting Instruments on a Mobile Mesonet Vehicle from NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory. Dr. Lubchenco launches a dropsonde instrument from a NOAA WP-3 research aircraft. Dr. Lubchenco Receiving a Briefing on Phased Array Radar Research While Visiting NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma. Dr. Lubchenco Joined a NOAA Shoreline Clean-up and Assessment Team (SCAT) in Grand Isle, Louisiana.

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yo jane - go jane!

yo jane - go jane!