It’s quite poetic that the current Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency was born in the same city where Earth Day originated 40 years ago today. Her name is Lisa P. Jackson and she’s the intellectual and environmental dynamo who literally has the weight of the world on her shoulders.
Born in Philadelphia, PA, it was only weeks before Lisa was adopted and whisked away by her new family to the predominantly middle class, African American suburb of Pontchartrain Park in New Orleans, Louisiana. Having started elementary school not long after segregation had ended, Lisa’s parents wanted to be sure she received the best education possible. So they sent her to attend St. Mary’s Dominican High School, an all girl’s school, where she excelled and graduated as valedictorian of her class. Her love for New Orleans prompted her to stay close for college.
She attended Tulane University and initially planned to become a doctor because she wanted to help people. However, she ended up majoring in chemical engineering. In a recent speech she gave to St. Mary’s Dominican High School, she says this of her choice to switch majors, “I know that chemical engineering sounds like I spent my time in a lab wearing a white coat and filling test tubes. But what I really was studying was how chemicals affect people – our environment and our health. That meant a lot of time putting my boots on and going out into the wetlands. Or going into communities and talking to the families that lived there.” Her passion for environmentalism and her studies led her to graduate summa cum laude. She went on to receive her Masters degree from Princeton University where she wrote her thesis on wastewater and was only one of two women in her graduating class.
Around the time of her graduation from Princeton a major toxic waste discovery occurred in a highly populated area of New York. When Lisa watched the news coverage of the incident she saw the devastating effects the toxic waste was having on the community. She also saw that the organization that came in to help was the Environmental Protection Agency. And the rest, as they say, is history. She decided that was the place she wanted to work and for 15 years that’s just what she did and now she’s leading the organization where her career in environmentalism first began.
Previously Lisa held the position of Commissioner for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and she was even asked to be Chief of Staff for New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. But only days after accepting the position, she was tapped by President Obama to hold the position she is in today. She is the first African American to ever hold this position.
Somewhere in the middle of literally saving the world, Lisa finds time to be a wife to her husband Kenny and mother to their two sons Marcus and Brian. Click here to watch Lisa’s Earth Day message.