Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce employees during Women’s History Month.
Guest blog post by Errica Miller, Senior Advisor to the Deputy Commissioner of Patent Administration, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
As the Senior Advisor to the Deputy Commissioner of Patent Administration, I am responsible for tracking, analyzing and providing advice and support on a full range of strategic, operational and policy initiatives and issues. Currently, I am on a special assignment as the Acting Director for the Office of Data Management, where I oversee the day-to-day operations of the patent publication process.
I grew up in Prince Georges County, Maryland, and attended Suitland High School. While I am the first of three generations to receive a college degree in my family, I did not follow a traditional path to higher education. Initially, I was content with my role at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). In the mid-1990’s, there was a wave of young African-American examiners hired at the USPTO. Most were younger than me, but making double my salary. They challenged me to go to college and change my career track. Naturally, the prospect of a higher salary was intriguing, but I wasn’t sure if college was the right choice for me.
Eventually, I accepted the challenge, enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) and started taking a few classes offered at the USPTO. I attended part-time for many years while working full-time and was on track to complete my degree. However, the universe often has other plans, and I discovered I was pregnant. Instead of completely abandoning my educational path, I chose to continue my classes, taking breaks between courses when needed.
My goal was to complete my degree before my first son started elementary school. Although that seemed a long way off, I was determined. I transferred to University of Maryland University College (UMUC). There, I faced some of my most difficult classes. Thankfully, the same people who challenged me to earn my degree were there to support, tutor and mentor me. That was especially true of my USPTO colleagues. I eventually earned my Bachelor of Science in Human Resource Management from UMUC. Standing at graduation, with my family and friends cheering me on, I realized that through determination, hard work, sacrifice and support, I could achieve the things that I want in life. So, I kept moving forward. I re-enrolled in UMUC and earned my master’s degree in Business Information Systems and Services while pursuing and completing a master’s certificate in Project Management from George Washington University.
One of my favorite quotes is “Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew” –Cicely Tyson. It reminds me that if I had never challenged myself, I probably would not be where I am today.
To assist others in taking on new challenges, my colleagues and I established the Patent Technical Support Staff Learning Opportunities Program. To help create a positive environment where all employees can reach their full potential, this program provides opportunities for administrative and technical support staff at the USPTO to improve their knowledge of the organization while advancing personal and professional education. This team was instrumental in the development of some other programs offered at the USPTO such as the Mentoring Program, the Administrative Professionals Excellence (APEX) Program and the Job Coach Program.
Women’s History month gives me the opportunity to recognize those women whose love, friendship, support and mentorship throughout the years have made me the person I am today. It is also a time to reflect on the accomplishments and contributions women have made to society as well as the future generations of women who will carry on that tradition. In particular, working at the USPTO has provided me the opportunity to observe how women make a difference in the areas of science and technology.
If I had one piece of advice for others, it would be to remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. It limits and hinders your personal and professional growth. Seek out and take advantage of opportunities when they arise, no matter how small. This will enable you to engage and build relationships with new and different people while enhancing self-confidence, skills and experiences.