Internships, co-ops, or research experiences as an undergraduate:
Every summer, I did internships with Dow Chemical (I also interned with them in high school). These experiences showed me that what I was learning in school could be applied to real life. Sometimes theories and equations can be overwhelming and seem 'irrelevant'. But having an intern experience was crucial to motivating me to stay the course.
Anything that you wish you had done differently when you were an undergraduate student?
As an undergrad, I had a good experience and I wouldn't change anything. I truly believe that the challenges I had, made me stronger and able to face the challenges I would face in industry. As an undergraduate, you should try and maximize your opportunities.
How you found your first chemistry-related job:
After I received my bachelor's degree, I decided against going graduate school because I wanted to work. At a National Society of Black Engineers Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA, I attended a career fair, which led to a job as a project engineer at U.S. Gypsum. At first, I intended to "work at USG for 30 years and then retire," but after a few years, my interest in all things environmental drove her to return to graduate school. Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX) had a good environmental engineering program, and USG needed someone with environmental expertise, so they agreed to pay for some of her expenses.
Describe the career path that led you from chemical engineering to your current position as Director of Federal Policy for WE ACT for Environmental Justice.
Company layoffs at USG put me back into the job market after I earned my master's degree, but I immediately landed another job in nearby Fort Worth, as a process engineer supervising several production lines and chemical processes in a production plant. This job gave me experience in managing people and working as a union steward.
Eventually, I moved to Maryland to work with the state's Department of the Environment, where my job entailed encouraging various state agencies to use alternative-fuel vehicles. I learned to advocate for policies, traveling to the state capital to lobby the legislature and learned how the state agencies worked and how to influence their decisions.
My life took another turn for White-Newsome when I married and returned to my hometown of Detroit, MI, to work as an environmental manager at a startup company that made car engines. I spent several years there, building the company's environmental management process from the ground up. During a period of maternity leave, I began to look into the possibility of working in public and environmental health and applied to graduate school in the Environmental Health Sciences program at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health and got a full scholarship.
After graduate school, I did a postdoc for the Union of Concerned Scientists, which brought me to Washington, DC to work on documenting the effects of climate change on health. After my postdoc, she began her current position at WE ACT.
I am also an adjunct professor at Kettering University in Flint, MI, and the George Washington University in Washington, DC. This part-time work allows me to pursue my love of teaching in addition in addition to my full-time job.
Primary job responsibilities:
To insure that federal environmental policies - in Congress as well as the Administration - are protective of low income, communities of color. I help elevate the perspective of people that our often times left out of the policy making process.
I also do background research on potential collaborators in ASU partnerships, and I help research and prepare presentations for legislative hearings.
I work in a fast paced environment, typically >80 hours per week, including the work I do at home, travel and other engagements. When you work for a small operation like ours, you have to do all kinds of tasks, and you wind up taking work home with you. As I plant engineer, I worked 12–to– 14-hour shifts, and I thought that was hard. It's a challenge to balance it all with my family life, but I love what I do.
I spend 6–10 days a month on travel. People invite me to speak at conferences and coalition gatherings. I meet all kinds of people from different backgrounds. I help coordinate sessions at EPA conferences. When I can, I take time to tour communities and neighborhoods wherever I am, to see the challenges they are facing.
I work in an office. We lease space with a larger environmental organization so there are over 50 folks that I can interact with if needed.
Tools you can't live without:
All Microsoft office software
What you like most about your job:
I am passionate about the work I do because it combines my love for people, science, health and advocacy into one little package. I get to be creative but also work on something I believe in.
Best productivity trick:
Work in the early morning or late at night.
Best career advice you've received:
Don't take yourself too seriously and don't let people see you sweat.
Skills or talents that make you a good fit for your job:
I'm a translator - I can take complicated concepts and talk to anyone. I care and I am a good listener. But I get things done.
Anything else you'd like to mention about your career?
I never thought I would go from a chemical engineer in a manufacturing facility to working on policy. But everything I have learned and experienced in all of my positions makes me a stronger person to work on federal policy.
Essential habit you wish you'd started earlier:
Understanding the political process. I never used to care about politics. When I was a kid, I saw that cartoon about how a bill becomes law. Since I've been in DC, I have learned to appreciate the processes, motivations, and influences that go into making policy. I know a lot more now about when and how to engage. Community residents face challenges not only in protecting the communities they live in from environmental pollution, but also garnering the resources to be able to be engaged in the policy making process. Critical decisions are made in Washington, DC, every day. That’s why it is critical that people are knowledgeable and engaged in decisions that can impact them.
Favorite ACS resource:
The people and the network.
How you've benefited from being an ACS member:
I was an ACS Scholar and this program was helpful in garnering me my first internship in undergrad. I had a mentor that was wonderful and extremely encouraging. And I appreciated the financial support during undergrad as well.