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Natasha White
Katie Valentine

Natasha White

For more than 10 years, Dr. Natasha White was an environmental scientist with NOAA’s National Ocean Service/National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. In that position, she investigated the impacts of contaminants of emerging concern on the health of marine organisms. Dr. White found this work to be rewarding and fulfilling, and she values the growth and opportunities that were afforded to her through that experience.

In search of new challenges and opportunities, Dr. White joined NOAA’s Office of Education in October 2018. In her new position, she supports the administration of the Educational Partnership Program with Minority Serving Institutions (EPP/MSI), including the analysis of data to assess the impact of EPP/MSI investments on the demographics of NOAA mission STEM fields and the NOAA workforce.

What drew you to your current career or field?

I have always had a passion for science and education, with science being my first love. I was fortunate to spend a significant portion of my career contributing to the body of knowledge of the detection of contaminants in the marine environment and assessing how certain contaminants impact the health of various marine organisms. I came to NOAA as an EPP/MSI Graduate Sciences Program scholar. I was immediately intrigued with that program and thought that it would be rewarding to work with a program whose mission is to train and educate students from traditionally underrepresented groups to join the future NOAA workforce.

As I began to seek new opportunities to diversify my skillset, I was afforded the opportunity to complete a NOAA Rotational Assignment (NRAP) with the Office of Education. Through this opportunity I gained experience in program management and had the opportunity to work with an office whose mission was embedded in my values of ensuring future scientists from traditionally underrepresented minority groups are trained and competitive for the STEM workforce.  

What does success mean to you? 

Success to me is measured in fulfilment, continued growth, and impact. Having a sense of fulfilment in the work I do is what keeps me motivated to do more. I have mentored students each year since joining NOAA and it is fulfilling to watch them blossom into young scientists and professionals. As I continue to grow and seek new challenges in my career, I have adopted a "fearless" attitude, something that I lacked early in my career. If I was told "no" or "maybe" I would shut down and not make an effort to push the envelope any farther. I am now resolved to take every "no" or "maybe" as an opportunity to regroup, make adjustments and strive for the ultimate "yes." My most important measure of success is the impact I make on my community, peers, NOAA, and society as a whole. If the work I do influences change in one of these areas, I’ll know that I have been successful.

What was the best advice ever given to you that helped you become successful? 

The best advice that was given to me was given by a colleague who advised me to "speak up" and "ask for what I want." This was challenging for me because I’ve always been introverted; however, the desire to succeed forced me to come out of my shell and begin expressing to supervisors my desire to advance my career. I used to think that success and career advancement would just happen as long as I worked hard and produced good results. While this may be true in some instances, I only began to see true change in my career when I asked for additional opportunities or sought training to diversify my skill set. 

What do you hope to accomplish in the future? What do you hope the future for women in science looks like?

I think that the future of women in science is extremely promising. With current initiatives focused on encouraging girls and young women to get involved in STEM, I am encouraged that the demographic of many of the more traditionally male-dominated fields will change. I am also optimistic that more girls and young women of color will become involved in STEM, particularly those related to NOAA mission science fields. 

What advice would you give to a woman just starting out in her career?

The best advice I would give a woman just starting out in her career is that complacency is not an option! As you begin your career, design a plan that encourages growth so that your career does not become stagnant. It may not always be feasible to move around in your organization, but ask for new opportunities and challenges to advance your skill set and gain a broad understanding of your organization’s mission and how best you can utilize your skills to help the organization advance.

I would also advise her to seek mentors. I have had wonderful mentors during my time at NOAA — both supervisory and peer mentors — and their advice and encouragement has been immeasurable. Finally, I would encourage her to build a network of peers who share common values and career goals and a network of individuals that are in leadership positions to provide guidance for career advancement.

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