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Women @ Energy: Dianne Gates-Anderson

March 12, 2014 - 3:19pm

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Dianne Gates-Anderson is an Environmental Process Engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where she began working in 1996.

Dianne Gates-Anderson is an Environmental Process Engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where she began working in 1996.

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Dianne Gates-Anderson is an Environmental Process Engineer at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where she began working in 1996.  At the Radioactive and Hazardous Waste Management Division of LLNL, she invented and obtained a patent on a process called IS*SAFE, for “in situ stabilization and filter encapsulation.”  This process allows radioactively contaminated HEPA filters to be treated so they can be disposed of in a safe manner. Still another project involved disposing of depleted uranium waste. Recently Gates-Anderson has turned to dealing with the development of technologies and plans for the restoration and decontamination of large urban facilities following the detonation of a “dirty bomb”. Gates-Anderson graduated from Oklahoma State University in 1982 with a Bachelors of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering, and then earned her doctorate in environmental engineering in 1991 from University of California, Berkely with the support of the prestigious GEM fellowship, granted by the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Sciences, an alliance of graduate schools and industries dedicated to tapping underutilized sources of scientific talent.

Prior to working at LLNL, Gates-Anderson worked as a laboratory technician at Amoco Oil Company, and in the Environmental Sciences Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee on how to treat hazardous wastes that had contaminated the soil and groundwater. As a concerned citizen and scientist, Gates-Anderson serves on the Human Relations Commission of Union City, California, and spends hours organizing and teaching workshops that encourage students to consider technical careers.

1) What inspired you to work in STEM?

I loved chemistry from my very first chemistry course in the tenth grade. Of the sciences, I found chemistry the most fascinating because you can use the principles of chemistry to explain so much about everything around you. I moved many times with my military family, which ultimately settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Encouraged especially by my mother and her grandmothers to further my education, I enrolled at Oklahoma State University (OSU) in Stillwater.  When I selected chemical engineering as my undergraduate major, I did not honestly know what chemical engineers do. What I did know was that I loved chemistry and that teachers and others had told me that I should be an engineer since I was equally strong in science and math. And I had heard that chemical engineering is the toughest of the engineering majors, and that challenge motivated me.

In my junior year I gave birth to a son.  My sister, who was also at OSU, my mother, and my engineering adviser, Danelle Mohanty, provided key support as I completed my bachelor’s degree as a single mother.  After working in a laboratory in Tulsa, I ultimately decided to go to graduate school because I felt that I could contribute more than was expected of me as a laboratory technician, and I realized having an advanced degree would enhance my career advancement.

2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?

I really like the fact that I can work on a variety of projects and solve real world problems that impact all our communities. I have always been a problem solver, and engineering is a good way to get paid to solve problems.

3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

I think we have to reach out better to everyone, at all stages in their academic careers (including the very early years).  Every young learner should grow up thinking that they could have a STEM career and they should have some level of contact with a STEM professional that “looks” like them.  As a country, we need to ensure that all learners have access to a quality education with motivated teachers, adequate materials and access to and interaction with STEM professionals.

4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

Take all of the math and science classes that you can and seek out a mentor or enrichment program that can help you get a good start in a STEM career. Be prepared to work hard, speak up and don’t be afraid to shine.

5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

I enjoy hiking, cooking, travel, watercolor painting, needlepoint, and driving my MINI Cooper on the road and on the track!

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