What did you learn during your assignment as Director for Building Technology at the White House Council on Environmental Quality?
I was part of the climate team for building emissions and community resilience, charged with coordinating an all-of-government approach to reduce emissions across the U.S. building stock. It was difficult but important and rewarding work; I was stretched beyond my usual research role. One thing that stood out to me was the administration’s commitment to diversity and justice – that was evident from the people on staff, as well as the initiatives and the talent that was brought on board. One thing I learned from colleagues on the White House’s communications and engagement team was a whole different way to communicate, how to highlight benefits to people – jobs, equity, social well-being. As scientists we often focus on what we do and how we do it. At the White House I had to pay more attention in external communications to the why.
I also saw how the Department of Energy stands out as an agency of excellence in its mission to work to address climate change and climate resilience. However, even though there is a very clear role for the national labs as key resources for applied research and development, that aspect of our work is not as well understood by policymakers, who, for example, may be less aware of the mobilization of national labs for the decarbonization of buildings.
After this experience of working in an entirely different environment, I came back to the Laboratory with a strong appreciation of our unique culture that really thrives on collaborative problem solving.
What are some interesting things or exciting things going on at the Building Technology & Urban Systems Division?
The BTUS Division is invigorated by the administration’s focus on climate change. There’s a growing appreciation of the importance of buildings in climate, in communities’ health, and in their resilience. BTUS is involved in so much great work! I’ll share four highlights . We are advancing sector-based approaches to radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions: commercial, residential, and industrial facilities for example have very different pathways to net-zero, and we are accelerating appropriate solutions for each.. We are also providing technical assistance to Title 1 schools, schools in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment, to improve their indoor air quality and efficiency. We are working on tools and technology solutions to improve urban heat resilience. And finally we are coordinating the country's largest cohort of connected communities: groups of grid-interactive efficient buildings that collectively work to maximize building, community,and grid efficiency while meeting occupants’ comfort and needs.
You were a WSEC Women@The Lab honoree in 2020. What career development advice would you give other women at the Lab?
The Lab is a great place to build a long career. It’s a marathon, not a sprint., so make space and time to enjoy it. Work with as many people as you can in your field. Be willing to stretch yourself into new areas of responsibility and new levels of autonomy. Don’t wait for it even if you don’t feel totally ready. It’s helpful to identify people who are more advanced in their career and look for elements of their approach (whether in research, management, or people-to-people interactions) that may work for you. Find advocates and also advocate for yourself. For many people, that may not be a natural inclination, but you’ve got to put yourself out there.
Jessica is also an inventor. One of the inventions she and her team developed is the Sensor Suitcase, a portable case that contains easy-to-use sensors and other equipment that make it possible for anyone to identify energy-saving opportunities in small commercial buildings. Read about Jessica’s thoughts about the process of developing and commercializing inventions.