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WiT Interview with Denine Jackson, Assistant Engineer in the Division of Water for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Women in Technology WNY is here to feature women’s stories in our local community and the various technology roles they fill, traditional and non-traditional. TechBuffalo is here to highlight these women to encourage others to explore technology opportunities and take advantage of them.

Care to share 5 fun facts about you?
1.) I am an engineer by day, but I’m really into fashion and home interior design. It is not exactly related to engineering, but it gives me a creative outlet and a way to use my technical skills in fun ways.
2.) I love reading children’s hardcover color picture books. They are thrilling for me. I love the heavyweight feel of the paper and the colors. I love reading to kids with this kind of book.
3.) I love to travel.
4.) My new favorite color is black.
5.) Lastly, I am giving it a go being a plant mom again. So far, they’re all still thriving.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in engineering?
My chemistry teacher Mr. Hurley from Hutchinson Central Technical High School inspired me to pursue engineering. I originally planned to pursue a career in forensic science, but then I ended up taking AP Chemistry with Mr. Hurley. His daughter was attending Cornell University and he said, “Why don’t you try chemical engineering?”

As a 17/18-year-old, I just said “sure.” I knew I wanted to do something science/math-related and the transition from basic science to engineering was by his recommendation. What kept me in the engineering program was knowing that an engineering degree was/is super versatile. You learn so much studying engineering and it has many transferable skills. I looked at my degree as an investment. I needed my degree to be an investment that can do whatever I want to do in life.

What is your day-to-day like in your current role? And what is your current role?
I am currently an environmental engineer for the State of New York. My primary responsibility is to regulate municipalities and industry to make sure they are not discharging improper wastewater in our waterways. I monitor and enforce against them when necessary. I make sure that they understand what their responsibilities are as a discharger etc. That’s an overview of what I do, which entails a lot of other things, but no two days are the same for me. Working for the state, and working in the Division of Water, I touch so many different types of projects. For example, today I’m working on a permit for a facility. You’ve got to do calculations and look at data on what chemical parameters there are in discharges. Last week, I was working on just enforcement.

Would leave us with a piece of advice that you wish somebody would have given you at the start of your career?
I would say don’t take so seriously where you are on the ladder of “success” because it all comes in time, and as needed. I started out feeling that I need to be in this position by this age, and by this time, otherwise, you are a complete failure. When the reality is, life is a roller coaster. You have ups and downs. I could have started at the peak and then something happens and then it’s gone.

When we were younger, we were given this formula. You go to school, you get good grades, You go to college, you get a job, and then you’re successful. They left out all the variables and didn’t leave much room for the what-ifs. What happens if I do all those things and I’m still not “successful”. If someone had said, it’s OK that your career is in the trash right now because guess what, in three months, in a year, in three years you could be at your dream job. To be honest with you, if I followed the path that I thought I was going to follow, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now. I love my job. I love every aspect of it. I work with great people and have great systems that support me.

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