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Career Profiles

Rhonda Patterson

Geologist

Rhonda Patterson was originally interested in biology and oceanography, but a chemistry teacher was instrumental in turning her into an earth scientist. She encouraged Rhonda to take a summer oceanography course for high school juniors where she was introduced to geology as a science for the very first time. She was fascinated by the geophysical lines and because of that course, she majored in geology. She took a lot of math; although it was hard at first she got used to it. In graduate school she specialized in geomagnetism because she liked the project that was available for study. Through the years she also specialized in structural geology and sedimentary geology. After six years in the petroleum industry, Rhonda now works in a federal regulatory agency. She has taken courses in hydrogeology to help her evaluate coal mine permit applications.

As a federal worker in the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Rhonda is part of an office that oversees the surface coal mining activities of a four state region. She spends most of her time reviewing Texas' regulations and it's efforts to ensure that coal mining minimally affects the people and environment, without making it impossible for coal miners to operate at a profit. Sometimes the state's policies or practices must be revised against the state's or industries' wishes. Rhonda enjoys the challenge of meetings, pitting her wits against some very powerful people and convincing them that they should do what the federal agency wants because it is the best way, the correct way, the safest way, or just because it is the law as the agency interprets it. She must be very professional in representing the agency and very knowledgeable on the law and coal mining techniques using all her skill in dealing with people and their emotions. She meets with state officials regularly and writes an annual report to Congress on the condition of the mining program in the state.

Rhonda suggests you take an interest in the news of other fields because you never know when something might apply indirectly to a problem you are working on. When you are single, take all of the transfers offered to you. When you are married or seriously involved with someone, don't let your career get too important. Your life must be balanced between work, play and family. There is the potential to make a high salary as an earth scientist, but the greater reward is doing something every day that you enjoy and look forward to doing tomorrow. As an earth scientist, you almost always become an environmentalist at heart. The satisfaction of helping to protect the environment is what makes earth science so attractive to Rhonda.

P.S. Just before printing, Rhonda accepted a promotion and transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy Office to work as a geologist. Her primary responsibility will be to work with industry, colleges, and governmental agencies to develop and transfer new technology to be applied to the search for gas and oil. She says it's just another example of the opportunity and flexibility available to women working in federal agencies.