Guest blog post by Jeanette Davis, Policy Analyst, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service
Contributions by African Americans to science and society is undeniable and Black History Month is a time to recognize and celebrate such contributions, both past and present. It is a month that speaks to resiliency, creativity, and the ability to serve humanity despite challenges.
As a Federal employee, I work at the interface of science and policy at the Commerce Department's National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). My responsibilities include understanding and contributing to Omics technologies (a suite of methods used to analyze biological materials such as DNA, RNA, proteins, or metabolites) that improve the ability to investigate, monitor, and manage biological communities in the ocean. These duties range in scope from conducting Omics research at sea aboard a research vessel, coordinating interagency or international groups, to writing strategies to integrate Omics technologies across a variety of mission mandates. Being a career civil servant can be impactful and it is important to use knowledge to contribute to decisions that benefit society. I am grateful to work at an agency with an incredible mission that is well-aligned with my personal goals for the environment.
I grew up in Wilmington, Delaware and learned at a young age that I was passionate about science. However, I was first exposed to the marine environment as a student at Hampton University during an internship where I lived for a month on a 53-foot sailboat, exploring the Chesapeake Bay. After earning a B.S. in Marine and Environmental Science from Hampton University, I received a Ph.D. in Marine Microbiology from the University of Maryland. During my studies there, I researched bacteria association with tropical sea slugs that harbor medicinal compounds. I was recently cited in Science Magazine where I ultimately helped discover a bacterium associated with a Hawaiian sea slug that produces an anticancer compound.
Outside of my Federal experience, I am a strong advocate of community involvement and have lectured at several colleges and mentored countless students from elementary through college. In addition, I founded the Marquis Pressey Scholarship to fill a void in scholarship opportunities given to African American males in my hometown of Wilmington.
To promote diversity and empower young people through science, I authored a children's science book entitled “Science is Everywhere, Science is for Everyone” which was featured as the #1 Hot New Release in Children’s School Issues on Amazon.
Today, I continue to promote science and mentor younger generations through several programs here at NOAA and in my personal life. I attribute much of my success as a scientist to the strong foundation that I received in the Marine Science Department at Hampton University where I am a member of several graduate advisory committees. I am grateful for my journey as an African American woman scientist and understand the importance of empowering young people through science.
My advice to today’s young African Americans interested in a career with the Federal Government is to ensure that your agency’s mission is aligned with your personal vision. This will make your work meaningful and enjoyable. I would also add that it’s wise to blaze your own trail—you are not restricted by limited perceptions. You are most creative and produce the best work when you are authentic.
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting the contributions of Department of Commerce African Americans during Black History Month.