Portrait of Quinntella Wilson

February marks Black History Month, a time set aside to recognize and honor the achievements and legacy of Black Americans across U.S. history and society.

At the Office of Indian Energy, one way we are paying tribute is by spotlighting our friend and colleague Quinntella Wilson, who joined our Office full-time in May 2020 and serves as our Budget Director.

Through this blog, we honor her many contributions to our office and her longtime service to our nation, including eight years as a U.S. Naval Officer and two decades with various federal agencies.

How did your career path lead to the Office of Indian Energy, and what is your role?

When I came to DOE in 2016, I joined the Office of Energy Policy and Systems Analysis. The previous administration decided to move the domestic policy portion of the organization back into the program offices and [was] trying to get the organization down to a smaller footprint.

When that began to happen, I wanted to control my own fate, because I had come to DOE on a lateral position, and it was no gain for me to go somewhere where I did not feel that I would be a good fit. At the same time, the previous Indian Energy Director [Kevin Frost] was very short-staffed and asked if I could assist in supporting the back office.

My official role is Budget Director. However, I’m also the human resources representative for our Office, the IT [information technology] point of contact, the emergency preparedness program coordinator, and the approving official for [all Office expenditures]. I wear a lot of hats.

As Budget Director, do you have a strong sense of how it impacts the success of the Office?

Oh, definitely. Our budget has grown so, so much since I've been in the Office. And I'm just so happy that our budget continues to grow because that's more funding opportunities and more technical assistance we can provide to support our mission. It's exciting times.

What skills, experiences, and/or insights you have gained throughout your career that have proved helpful and/or relevant to your work with the Office of Indian Energy?

I think the most helpful thing is being adaptable to change. That’s a critical thing that I've been able to bring because it's generally very challenging for people in the federal government to accept change. Even though there is a lot of change, it's still very difficult. A lot of people do not move around to different agencies, so being able to accept and deal with change has helped me a lot.

And also, to have perseverance because you get a lot of people in the government who may not have the same experience with all those changes and may have a different knowledge base and come from a different environment. So just being able to adapt to all of that I think has carried me.

What changes have you seen or experienced across your decades of federal government service that make you hopeful?

Prior to coming to DOE, I was at Department of Justice, and our Chief Financial Officer (CFO) was a woman, and all [other] leaders except one were all women. We had one guy, our Deputy CFO, but he left and we got a female Deputy CFO. As far as diversity and equity, it was mostly African American women also.

I thought that that was unheard of—unseen. Because when I first started out, early in my career in the military, there were hardly any African American female naval officers. There were very few [of us].

And so, to come full circle, to have a boss who was a woman, and her deputy was a woman, and then most of all of her directors were women, and mostly African American. I mean, that to me is a change of times and very hopeful for the future of diversity and equity.

Are there elements of your background, culture, or heritage that you’ve been able to draw upon in your roleor that have influenced and enriched your work?

Oh yes, definitely—the disadvantage. I grew up in a very humble background. To understand where I came from and where I have gotten to [enables me] to have that empathy for other cultures, and especially the Native American community, because [I see how] their path is similar to the African American path as far as disadvantages.

What has been the most inspiring aspect of your work supporting the Office of Indian Energy?

When I hear our Director [Wahleah Johns, member of the Navajo Nation (Dine’)]and our Deputy Director [David Conrad, citizen of the Osage Nation] talk about their humble backgrounds and the things that their communities and their family members are still experiencing today, it saddens me, but it also makes me proud of where they have come from and what they have to offer.

It’s very hopeful because if they can do it—they have done it—and they have gained their level of success, it’s hopeful for the rest of us.

Just listening to their stories about their families, where they came from—I’m in awe when they tell their stories in speaking about our mission. It makes me very proud that I'm able to work with people who have this passion for the work that we are doing and have been doing and need to be doing. It's very inspiring to me.

When you think about the impact of your work supporting the Office of Indian Energy over the past almost three years, what makes you most proud?

It's really the mission. Our mission is very definitive. You know who we serve and why we're serving them. In some [cases] it can get very watered down.

But our purpose and our mission, there's no question about it. It's in the name, it's in our mission statement. It's very clear. And I really like that we have that strong mission, that strong link to who we're serving and what is our purpose. That is what makes me be able to continue to do the work I do to support the team.

Our team is very mission-driven, mission-oriented. No question—no matter what you're doing, you know why you're doing it. You see the need. You know the history of Native American and Alaska Native people. You know their story.

Tell us about a particular challenge you’ve overcome that brings a sense of pride or accomplishment.

I’m a two-time cancer survivor. The first time, I had breast cancer, and my daughter was only 3 years old. Now she’s 17. I come from a history of breast cancer. My mom died from breast cancer, and my aunt died from breast cancer, and my great aunt died from breast cancer.

So of course, when I first was diagnosed, the only thing that I knew about breast cancer was related to death. So, to overcome that, and then to have cancer again and overcome that, has been…you know, I feel life is full of endless possibilities. For me and for my husband and my daughter, it has endless possibilities.

And I try to live life like tomorrow is my last day because it's not promised to any of us.

What do you love to do outside of work that brings you fulfillment and joy?

Spending time with my daughter because she's going to be going away [to college] soon. And traveling. I'm an avid traveler, and I'm an adventurous person, so I like skydiving, jet skiing, things like that. I do a lot of traveling with my daughter, and she’s now into jet skiing and snorkeling.

I just came back from Iceland a couple of weeks ago. I went for my birthday with three other girlfriends. And for Christmas and New Year's, my husband and daughter and I were in Hawaii. We went to Oahu. We stayed in Waikiki for about five or six days and then we were out in Waianae for like five days.

In Hawaii, we went swimming with the dolphins, and we went cave diving with some sharks. In Iceland I went down in an ice cave, walked on glaciers, and saw the Northern Lights. I love, love, love to travel.

Karen Petersen
Karen Petersen is a communications strategist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Communications & Public Affairs Office.
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