The Next in Forest Products Laboratory’s Women in STEM Legacy

This is the third in a series of inspirational stories about the incredible women in STEM careers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL).

Eloise Gerry, first FPL & Forest Service woman scientist.

When FPL researcher, Eloise Gerry, became the first female scientist in the Forest Service, she probably would have never imagined the numerous and often surprising ways STEM careers have developed since 1910. The need for STEM literate individuals, who also have the skills to merge creative thinking with the ability to translate the science in artistic and easily understandable ways, is growing.

FPL celebrates the legacy and precedent Gerry set not only during Women’s History Month but every month of the year. In this edition, we would like to continue to showcase the incredible women in STEM who have followed in her extraordinary, trailblazing footsteps. Take a moment to meet the phenomenal FPL women who work in unconventional STEM careers and have devoted their lives to science delivery and a more informed STEM public: 

Julie Blankenburg

National Forest Service Library located at FPL – Supervisory Librarian

Why or how did you get into your career?

I have been interested in working in libraries since I started a job at the public library shelving books when I was 15. I found my way to the Forest Products Laboratory Library as a college student. I had not worked in a “special” library before and found it very interesting. After leaving my student job upon graduation I worked in many other types of libraries around Madison. I came back to the Forest Products Laboratory Library eight years later when a permanent librarian position became available. It took me a few years to feel comfortable finding all the types of scientific information needed by FPL researchers. I was familiar with some subject areas but had to learn others on the fly. The scientists have always been very helpful in answering my questions to expand my knowledge.

How do you see the STEM disciplines playing a part in what you do every day?  

I learned on the job what was of interest to each research group. Scientific disciplines included chemistry, engineering, mycology, botany, plant pathology, fire science in buildings, and entomology. As FPL research changes so does what the FPL library collects. Newer topics include nanotechnology and nanocomposites, fungal diseases in bats, and cross-laminated timber.

Who or what inspired your career? And what keeps you inspired?

I have always enjoyed books but the scientists at FPL have inspired me with all the things they do that help people and the environment. As a student I helped with the roll out mailing of the truss frame construction technique that was developed at FPL. In my 30+ year career at FPL I have seen fungi used to help soften wood chips before pulping to save energy, new connectors to hold houses together against heavy winds, improvements in earthquake construction, low-cost house plans, environmentally friendly adhesive development, improvements in composites that led to strandboard replacing plywood in many construction applications, development of waterproof cardboard boxes that hold up better in shipping and in storage, development of U.S. Postal Service stick on stamps that can be recycled without gumming up papermaking equipment with “stickies”, the development of the cancer drug taxol from the Pacific yew tree, creating fire resistant building materials and techniques, and much more.

What is the best part of your career?

Seeing the library research I do being applied to important research projects that improve the lives of Americans and others around the world is one of the best parts of my job. I also handle many  historic files of the Forest Products Laboratory and have collaborated with writers on a number of historic topics such as the development of plywood, the historic use of wood in airplanes, the development of lumber standards in the United States, development of standards for baseball bats, and the development of fiberboard boxes.

Do you have a message for young women thinking of pursuing a career in STEM or a related field?

Being part of a team that creates new scientific discoveries is very exciting. You can understand science even if you are not a math or science major. Communicating science out to the general public is often better done by science writers than by scientists and working together makes for a much better product. My specialty in knowing how to search databases and bibliographic literature can help me find things that a scientist may not know how to look up.

Karen Nelson

Communications & Science Delivery Visual Information Specialist

Why or how did you get into your career?

I was always interested in art, but I navigated into graphic design as a specialty while attending the University of Wisconsin.

How do you see the STEM disciplines playing a part in what you do every day?

Almost all of my products are geared towards STEM disciplines, ranging from technical publications to research posters.

Who or what inspired your career? And what keeps you inspired?

I was inspired by a professor at the University of Wisconsin. I took several of his courses in typography and graphic design, and he was an excellent mentor. To stay inspired, I enjoy perusing the work of other graphic designers.

What is the best part of your career?

The best part of my career is knowing a client is very satisfied with my work.

Do you have a message for young women thinking of pursuing a career in STEM or a related field?

Always be open to new opportunities and careers that you might never have considered. As a graphic designer, I never imagined that I would be creating science-based materials.

Barbara Hogan

Communications & Science Delivery
Technical Editor

Why or how did you get into your career?

I was always good at reading and writing, so I decided to go into journalism. Then, I found out about the agricultural journalism school at UW-Madison. I grew up on a farm and in a farming community, so that piqued my interest. In the Ag J program, you were allowed to pick an area of specialization, and I decided to go with basic science. It turned out to be pretty neat because you basically went around to all the science programs and took their 101 class, kind of like learning a little bit about a lot of things.

After college, I was looking for a way to get my foot in the door somewhere, and a friend who worked in the library at the Forest Products Lab said I should call a guy named Jim Anderson and tell him about myself. I did that, and it turned out that he was getting ready to fill a temporary position in the publishing department. I ended up getting that position, which got my foot in the door and helped me start learning about the world of scientific publishing.

How do you see the STEM disciplines playing a part in what you do every day?

In my job, I work with people in the STEM disciplines. I try to understand them and what they are doing. This helps me to provide quality input to their research writing. It also helps that I understand their publishing needs and the scientific publishing process. This allows me to answer publishing questions and to give them advice.

Who or what inspired your career? And what keeps you inspired?

Helping people and sometimes hearing from people that they appreciate what we do keeps me inspired.

What is the best part of your career?

The best part of my career is knowing that we improve the quality of research publications and help scientists to get their accomplishments done faster.

Do you have a message for young women thinking of pursuing a career in STEM or a related field?

“You can do it!”

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In the coming weeks, we’ll be telling more inspirational stories highlighting the extraordinary women in STEM who are helping to ensure forest products are part of a more sustainable future…

To find out more about the extraordinary contributions our researchers are making to the world of wood science, please visit the Forest Products Laboratory at https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/