Women Employees: Kathleen Stewart
Kathleen Stewart, Environmental Scientist
EPA Region 9
San Francisco, CA
Where were you born?
What brought you to EPA?
When I graduated, I had job offers at a consulting firm, a biotech firm, a lab, and EPA. The starting salary was a lot higher at the other jobs, but I was drawn by the promise of being able to use science to take a balanced approach to solving important environmental issues. Plus, I get to say “I work for the US Environmental Protection Agency.” How cool is that?
What type of work do you do at EPA?
I’m the community air toxics coordinator for EPA’s Pacific Southwest office, which serves California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, and 148 tribal nations. I get to help people understand indoor and outdoor air pollution, how it affects their health, and what they can do about it. I have also issued air permits requiring power plants and refineries to install the best available control technologies to minimize pollution, and I helped establish the Children’s Environmental Health Program in our region. I LOVE my job.
What is your highest level of education? What was your major?
I have a bachelor of science in environmental toxicology from the University of California at Davis. When I started college, I hated math and science because I felt like I wasn’t smart enough. In fact, I started out as an international studies major at a small liberal arts college so I didn’t have to take math or science to graduate. But halfway through, I decided to rethink my career path and started taking classes towards a nursing degree at my local community college. I had to take chemistry, microbiology, physiology, and anatomy – and complained bitterly about it. However, I quickly discovered that I’m actually pretty good at it!
What message would you like to send other women who are considering college or a career in environmental protection?
My grandma tried to steer me away from getting a science degree. What I have learned, with the help of incredibly supportive managers at EPA, is that if you are passionate about your work, and you work smart and hard and creatively, it IS possible to do great work in the environmental sciences and still have work-life balance. I have an amazingly fulfilling job at EPA. I get to help communities throughout California reduce air pollution risks near schools and daycares; work with colleagues in Washington, DC on funding, research, and policy; and learn from brilliant Navajo professors as we look for ways to reduce risk from the use of coal cook stoves in the Navajo Nation. And I get to do this all on a part-time schedule that allows me to be home with my kids five days a week.
I would also like to tell other women that you don’t have to be a scientific genius to do great work, you just have to care. If other people can do it, so can you. The world will be a better place if you embrace that confidence and go for it!