South Lawndale native Angela C. Harvey, director of the Infrastructure, Programs and Projects Division at the U.S. Department of Energy Argonne site office, became fascinated by nuclear power while in college.
Angela C. Harvey proudly cites her South Lawndale roots and her Chicago public school education when she explains her role in overseeing the U.S. Department of Energy's management of Argonne National Laboratories.
Harvey considers herself fortunate to have attended Daniel J. Corkery Elementary School, which emphasized science learning and where parents took an active role in school activities.
It was there that Harvey joined the 4-H Club, competed in the elementary school's science fairs and soaked up school field trips to local hospitals, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Robert Crown Center and other visits that gave students insights into science.
Harvey wanted to follow in her brother's footsteps by becoming a doctor, and envisioned herself a medical examiner much like the "Quincy" TV-show character. During summers in high school, she worked in the Cook County coroner's office, at the Chicago Osteopathic Hospital's pathology lab and at the Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital's pathology lab, doing internships offered by the Chicago Allied Health and Medical Career Program at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Harvey was graduated from Lindblom Technical High School and obtained her bachelor's of science degree from Coe College in Cedar Rapids.
While in college, Harvey changed her mind about her future and started working at Iowa Electric Light & Power Co. as a chemistry technician. She was fascinated by the utility's nuclear power plant.
"I was hungry to learn about this whole new field -- to me -- nuclear power -- that I had no idea of," she said. "I think my whole interest in science was that I always wanted to learn."
Harvey did postgraduate work in nuclear engineering and environmental sciences by spending eight to 12 hours each Saturday in a classroom at the utility. Professors from Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, taught the classes.
Harvey is seeking the next rung up the career ladder by returning to school for an MBA at Keller Graduate School of Management of DeVry University in Downers Grove.
Harvey encourages others to consider working in a national lab, which she likened to "being in a toy store" with its variety and vastness of experiences.
"There are so many areas of science at a national laboratory, so many science discoveries, different disciplines and opportunities to share with other laboratories," she said. "There is no end to what you can learn."
Harvey experiences the variety in her work overseeing Argonne National Laboratory and its contracting operator, the University of Chicago.
"I may spend a day talking with the scientists, lawyers, real estate specialists, or a day laborer," she said.
Though the numbers of African-American females at the 17 Department of Energy-owned national laboratories nationwide remain small, scientists, engineers and outreach specialists say they are continuing to expand their efforts to reach African-American women.
Indeed, laboratory directors are inviting Gender Equity Conversations, sponsored by the American Physical Society, to help expand the culture.
DOE also encourages its contractors -- the contractors who run most of the laboratories -- to "understand the benefits of diversity, and work hard to attract and retain a diverse workforce . . . a work force that reflects and represents America," said Sara Brunson, director of the Office of the Manager, Diversity, based at Argonne National Laboratory.
Yet, the numbers of women among first-time engineering college enrollees has declined in recent years, accounting for fewer than one in five bachelor's degrees, according to data from the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology.
Harvey works with Chicago Public Schools and Argonne's Women in Science and Technology program to introduce students to the national lab and its science and engineering opportunities. She believes the best way to get young people interested in science is to offer year-round programs starting in elementary school.