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Women in History: Paving the Way for the Next Generations of Women in Environmental Science

Posted by Jenn Collins on March 15, 2021


March is Women’s History Month, and we are taking this moment to honor women pioneers in the field of environmental science. The list of women who have supported, innovated, and driven environmental science is long and impressive, but two stood out to us representing decades of advancements in the field.

Rachel Carson, an avid environmentalist who intertwined her love of nature with a passion for writing and poetry, was most notably known for her bestseller, Silent Spring. Originally featured as a series in The New Yorker in 1962, Silent Spring alarmed and educated readers on the dangers of DDT and played a significant role in the environmental movement, including the establishment of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Although Silent Spring is her most recognizable work, Carson was also a marine biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Throughout her career, she was able to deftly apply poetic prose to describe complex ecological food webs and systems. Carson also wrote Under the Sea-Wind, The Sea Around Us, and the Edge of the Sea.

Mollie Beattie was the first woman to serve as the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Under her leadership, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service added 15 additional national wildlife refuges, 100 habitat conservation plans, and reintroduced the gray wolf into the northern Rocky Mountains. Her appointment in 1993 under the Clinton administration provided her with a role from which she actively championed environmental laws and amendments, including the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts.

Everyone hears a different call to environmental science, and our own women scientists have unique stories about what led them to our field of research. For example:

Amy Ritter, our Principal Water Resources Engineer, initially specialized in designing water systems and waste water treatment plants working for an international engineering consulting firm with Marty Williams (co-founder of Waterborne). After going back to graduate school, Amy joined Waterborne to help out our co-founder, Marty with modeling exposure and transport of pesticides, and as she says “just ended up staying” We’re certainly grateful she did, 28 years later!

Nikki Maples-Reynolds, a Project Toxicologist, grew up with the love for the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and hiking. It was during these hikes that she witnessed a loss of salamanders and dying trees around mountain streams. The losses spurred her to action and, from then on, she knew she wanted to go to pursue for environmental toxicity and help solve important problems through science-based approaches.

Natalie Walk, a Project Agricultural Engineer, grew up on a livestock and grain farm and had goals to expand her knowledge within the agricultural field. She was drawn to environmental and agricultural science because she could see the direct impact research has on farmers with the most up-to-date best management practices.

Jenn Trask, a Principal Engineer, was inspired back in elementary school when her father worked for the Illinois EPA specializing in chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone. His work inspired Jenn to follow in his footsteps. By the time she entered college at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, an environmental engineering track was an available option for her through her civil engineering major, a degree path that was not available when her father attended the same school. Although they have different degrees, their pursuit was the same, to ensure the environment is being preserved for generations to come.

We are grateful to the women in history who have paved the way for women in environmental science, including the many talented women scientists and engineers at Waterborne Environmental.

References:

www.rachelcarson.org

www.fws.gov/refuges/about/conservationheroes


Rachel Carson examining a specimen
Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images