Inspired by their informal dinner discussions, Raeanna Sharp-Geiger and female colleagues created a new resource a few years ago, the Los Alamos Women’s Group, providing a comfortable environment where women from all across the diverse Lab could network, collaborate and gain a broader perspective of the Lab.
Public service is not new to Sharp-Geiger. As an undergraduate she studied criminal justice, working in an inner city before returning to college to get a Master’s in Public Administration and, later, another Master’s in Environmental Health and Industrial Hygiene.
Today, she helps manage the Lab’s Environment, Safety and Health directorate. Sharp-Geiger helps identify, evaluate and control chemical, physical, biological, radiological and environmental hazards in a way that facilitates the Lab’s mission while meeting regulatory requirements.
1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
I became interested in a career in STEM during my graduate internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory. I was working on a Master's in Public Administration and tasked with developing Health Policies in the Environment, Health, and Safety Division. As a part of my job, I spent time out in the field with Industrial Hygienists and Occupational Safety personnel and became fascinated with the discipline of Industrial Hygiene. As an undergraduate, I had taken advanced math and science classes as electives because I was interested in those subjects, so when I decided to study Industrial Hygiene I was accepted to a top school. It is worth noting that my mentors at that time were both women.
2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
The Department of Energy conducts important work in service of the nation. Los Alamos attracts the best and the brightest in science, technology and engineering; my colleagues conduct work in the production, construction, environmental, weapons and R&D arena. The net result is an incredibly challenging, diverse and dynamic work environment.
For someone committed to protecting workers, the public, and the environment, there is no more challenging and exciting place to work due to the sheer diversity of hazards present (e.g., accelerators, rad material, lasers, magnetic fields, heavy metals).
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
The best way to engage others in STEM fields is to start early and make it a lot of fun. Whether it is doing little experiments at home, building Lego objects, or applying it to cooking. Anything that builds the intellectual curiosity, through outreach starting at a young age and continuing across decades.
Focusing efforts on elementary and middle school students is key; for example, educating them on the interesting science, technology, engineering and math behind many of today's ubiquitous tools such as iPhone, Skype, Netflix—and help them learn about the individuals who do the work. Studies have shown that a positive experience with science and/or math during this critical period encourages students to consider a STEM-related career. We all can also ensure that we support our teachers’ continual professional development and engagement with the sciences.
4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Operations and Industrial Hygiene/Safety are not well-publicized professions. I had not heard of Industrial Hygiene as an option until I was almost out of undergraduate school, so it can be tough. Leveraging school counselors and aptitude tests are a good start.
Professional organizations like American Industrial Hygiene Associate and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, INPO, are also good places to start if you know about the potential careers and want to learn more about what they actually are and how they are applied. Internships are also a great opportunity to experience day-to-day activities and duties associated with a profession one may be interested in.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
My first love is spending time with my family. I have two kids and they keep us pretty busy. We all like sports, outdoor activities, traveling, cooking, and a good movie so that is what we tend to do together. I enjoy those activities on my own as well and also enjoy reading a wide variety of periodicals and novels.