As program manager for environmental intelligence, Jill Brandenberger studies the importance of the ocean in our daily lives. Her research interests include Earth and human system measurements and models; climate change impacts on national security; environmental security; resilience in Alaska/Arctic; and science to engineering: translating climate science to engineering design. Until recently, she was also an adjunct professor at Western Washington University. Jill holds a BS in oceanography and an MS in environmental science, both from Texas A&M University.
What inspired you to work in STEM?
The ocean inspired me to work in the STEM field. The ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contains 95 percent of the Earth’s water. The energy of the ocean can provide new sources of power, but changes in global climate can increase the vulnerability of human systems such as the rapid increase in temperatures in the Arctic. These global changes have impacts everywhere in our world and pose a threat to our energy security and our national security.
What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
I love working with multidisciplinary teams with a focus on moving fundamental science into applied research to support national security missions. The links between energy, food, water, and economics are challenging to measure, but that is a national lab challenge. It is critical to understand the links between these domains to increase our societal and environmental resilience.
How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
It is simple: talk to them particularly in the national security domain. I have done many high school career days and mentoring roles for young women interested in STEM. I have brought many women into the field of oceanography simply by telling my story. I am not perfect, I struggled with dyslexia and did not score well on standardized tests. But my teachers saw so much promise in me that they moved me into advanced placement classes. Part of my drive to juggle a full-time career at PNNL and an adjunct professor position was to give back. I wanted to be the teacher who sees the promise in our next generation of STEM leaders. I want to help them see that anything is attainable! You don’t have to do it alone.
Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Find your inner strength, don’t fear the unknown, don’t be afraid to be the only woman in the room, and intern in as many positions as you can find. You might be surprised how much you can accomplish with a good mentor. Find someone that inspires you and pushes you, don’t settle for the easy jobs.
When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
I built an ocean-going kayak that is 19 ft long. I love to kayak and sail in the summer and ski in the winter. I have to take advantage of being in both the mountains and at the ocean’s edge.
Learn more about our programs & resources for women and girls in STEM at /women