Joyce Chavez joined the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Legacy Management in September 2016 as the Reuse Asset Manager, where she leads the beneficial reuse program to evaluate and determine land management and facility reuse options on former nuclear sites. The beneficial reuse program promotes optimizing public use of former contaminated sites. Also, Joyce is one of two National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance officers for the Office of Legacy Management.
Prior to joining DOE, Joyce worked for private industry and as a civilian for the Department of Defense, including the US Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Army. Her professional career involves executing strategic planning, managing numerous environmental programs for compliance and sustainability, initiating new programs, and directing research and development for remediation technology. Her projects involved military installations and ranges in the United States and across western Europe. Joyce earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in biochemistry from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
What inspired you to work in STEM?
From an early age, I had a passion for the sciences and nature. I was fortunate to have amazing teachers that helped me engage my curiosity. My biggest influence was my high school chemistry teacher. He was very inspiring with his humor and mantras to help the class remember certain fundamental principles. I’ve also been inspired by some of the great scientists, such as Nikola Tesla and Linus Pauling. Where would we be without alternating current electricity and the radio? Thank you, Nikola Tesla!
What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
Through my role as the beneficial reuse manager, I get to be creative as I coordinate optimizing public use of land with sustainability and reuse options. My organization has many sites, so there is a lot of diversity and each site is unique. I’m excited that I’ve been able to expand the beneficial reuse program. Due to the nature of most of our sites, conservation is a great way to revitalize the land and preserve our natural resources.
I’m very thankful that I can work with a great group of ecologists who lead the way to promoting restoring and enhancing habitats that both people and animals may enjoy. Many times, restoring sites to their native state can be a gateway to many other types of reuses, such as greenbelts or recreational and agricultural uses. I enjoy being able to layer various reuses together to promote social, economic and environmental aspects.
How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
Show children and young adults what possibilities exist with various career paths. Kids have such a great natural curiosity. Starting at a young age, having children engage in STEM activities through school, home or communities is crucial to maintaining that natural curiosity. By providing opportunities for individuals to interact with science, we allow individuals to grow and dream.
Science also teaches individuals about resiliency. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. As all good scientists know, to grow you must fail and learn from your mistakes. To learn more about science, it can be as simple as baking (hopefully a delicious chemistry experience), exploring in your own backyard/neighborhood, looking up a virtual science show, or taking a trip to the local science museum. Stay persistent and keep trying!
Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Ask questions and learn about possibilities. Be honest with yourself about your passion. If there’s a specific topic that you’re passionate about, I would recommend finding a good mentor. This person should be diverse to help you learn as many topic areas as possible or one who is a subject matter expert in your specific area of interest. This person should be able to guide you into areas to focus on or inspire you to dream bigger.
If you’re not sure what you want to pursue in the field of sciences, I’d recommend taking a few courses and see what motivates you. When I started college, I was planning to work in a laboratory. I quickly realized the micro-world was not my calling. I flexed my plan and decided to go to pharmacy school. As I was waiting to be accepted to pharmacy school, I started doing environmental work and never looked back.
When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
I’m am fortunate to live near the beautiful mountains, so I spend my free time hiking, snowshoeing, skiing and mountain biking in the local areas with family, friends and my Bernese Mountain Dog. I also practice Pilates. My newest adventure is learning to play guitar.
Learn more about our programs & resources for women and girls in STEM at http://www.energy.gov/women