DEP Women in STEM: Jennifer Smith

Name: Jennifer K. Smith

Division/Title: DEP Southeast District Director

How long have you been with DEP: 15 Years – I started as an Environmental Specialist I, and now hold the position of Southeast District Director.

Education/Background: Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio, and then moved to South Florida to attend Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center in Dania Beach for the Master Degree program in Coastal Zone Management.

What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM? Growing up in Ohio, I always liked when we visited Florida. I have a love for the ocean, and knew that one day I wanted to live and work in Florida. Science, technology, engineering and math were always my favorite subjects in school, and I always believed that having a career in a STEM field was possible. I thought STEM subjects were fun and made sense. I also always hoped that my passion for science would turn into a successful career.

What profession did you think you would be when you were growing up? I wanted to be a scientist or an inventor. I knew from a young age that I was interested in science.

What excites you about your work at DEP? I enjoy partnering with communities and businesses to protect Florida’s natural resources. Creating strong community relationships is important to me, and evident in the amount of outreach work that our District is conducting every quarter. I also enjoy being around the employees in the Southeast District (SED). We have a very collaborative group of bright employees and their ideas matter. SED employees have their own unique experiences and perspectives and they bring those experiences and perspectives to the table on a daily basis. The SED issues nearly 3,000 permits on an annual basis ranging from single family docks, and seawalls to waste water treatment plants, drainage wells, marinas and landfills. Keeping up that kind of volume while providing the best possible customer service and communicating effectively is always the goal. When I am out in the field or at meetings, I consistently hear from stakeholders about how helpful SED staff is to their agencies.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why? Ft. Pierce Storm Protection Islands. The Ft. Pierce marina was destroyed during the hurricanes of 2004. The city of Ft. Pierce applied to construct islands around the marina with the Indian River Lagoon to help protect their marina from impacts of future storms.  The project was the first of its kind, incorporating storm protection with creating habitat islands.  There were many challenges associated with the project including significant engineering and modeling as well as initial seagrass impacts although we suspected the final project would result in an increase in seagrass habitat.  The review of the application required significant collaboration within DEP as well as numerous other state and federal agencies.  We were able to get the application approved by the Governor and Cabinet as a “pilot” project and the islands have since been constructed and have demonstrated to be extremely successful.

Why is it important to get more students, including females, interested in STEMIf we want to continually attract the best and the brightest minds, then we must encourage young people to pursue their interest in STEM subjects. I want to encourage girls and boys with talent and a real interest in science, technology, engineering and math to be able to develop their abilities. As long as they are equally encouraged to study those subjects in school and out of school, then I think they can reach their goals. There are many ways they can develop those interests through programs such as career days and job shadowing, internships, summer camps and a variety of online resources. I am very pleased with the amount of interns we have had over the years who are female, and who wish to pursue an science-based career.

What is your best advice for girls interested in science? My best advice for young girls interested in science would be to find a mentor. The value of a mentorship is priceless. If you would like to have a successful career, find a mentor as soon as possible. I know many successful women who have credited their mentors with inspiring them to pursue their career goals.

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