Profiles of Women of EPA: 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 an air quality scientist for EPA’s Pacific Southwest office, which serves California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, and 148 tribal nations. Broadly, I help people understand indoor and outdoor air pollution, how it affects their health, and what they can do about it. My job combines science, field work, policy, community outreach, and research. During the summer and fall, I help communities reduce their exposure to smoke from wildfires by providing air quality advice and by deploying to wildfires as an Air Resource Advisor to monitor smoke and provide air quality forecasts. During the winter and spring months I work with communities to reduce smoke from wood and coal stoves, including leading an effort to bring cleaner-burning custom-designed stoves to the Navajo Nation. I LOVE my job.
What is your highest level of education? What was your major?
I have a Master of Public Health in disaster management from Tulane University and a Bachelor of Science in environmental toxicology from the University of California, Davis. When I started college, I hated math and science because I worried 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 science!
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, worried that I wouldn’t be able to balance a science career with the demands of being a mom. What I have learned, with the help of 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 sciences and still have good work-life balance. I have an amazingly fulfilling job at EPA, with the flexibility to work part-time, telework, and to spend plenty of time being a mom to my two kids.
I would also like to tell other women that you don’t have to be a genius to do great work in the sciences, you just have to care and have passion. 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!