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Amplifying women's voices and accomplishments at TCEQ

March 19, 2020 - Women who strive to protect the environment and public health

By Marty Otero, TCEQ External Relations

Left to right: Susan Clewis, Susan Jablonski, Nicole Bealle, Lorinda Gardner, Alyssa Taylor, Kathy Sauceda

Women are game changers at TCEQ. As part of Women’s History Month, we highlight some of our female regional directors and one area director. Their stories deepen our understanding of women’s personal challenges and professional achievements through their contributions to TCEQ, their families, and communities. Women’s History Month, observed annually in the U.S. throughout the month of March since 1987, is a celebration of women’s contributions to history, culture, and society.

Alyssa Taylor – Regional Director, Region 4 – Dallas/Fort Worth

L to R: Kimberli Fowler, Alyssa Taylor, and Greg Diehl tour Central Regional Wastewater facility
Left to right: A TRA employee, Kimberli Fowler (DFW region air team leader), Alyssa Taylor (DFW regional director), and Greg Diehl (DFW region water team leader) attended a meeting with Trinity River Authority staff at their Central Regional Wastewater Facility and took a tour.

Taylor was born in Austin, but her family moved around central Texas during her early years until eventually settling in Groesbeck, Texas, about 40 miles east of Waco. There, Taylor spent most of her childhood.

TCEQ History

Taylor has been an employee of TCEQ and its predecessor agency for 20 years. She began her career as an air investigator, moved to air team leader, then air section manager, assistant regional director, and is now regional director. Taylor feels that her greatest achievement is mentoring others for success.

“Along the way I have tried to help others to also be successful,” she says. “Each position allowed me to have an influence on more and more people.”

Sources of Inspiration

Taylor says she looked up to her paternal grandmother and admires any woman who is determined to go after what she wants. “I looked up to my dad’s mother. She became a teacher because she loved to help others. She never let anyone tell her what she could or could not do.”

Education and Background

As a girl, Taylor was interested in science, especially biology. “I had always wanted to be a marine biologist, but not being anywhere near the coast, I thought I would be a park ranger,” she said.

When Taylor decided to join the Air Force, she never hesitated. She never felt that she shouldn’t enlist just because she was a female. During basic training, she was promoted to squad leader and then to dorm chief.

After leaving the Air Force, Taylor earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Texas at Arlington and interned at the Fort Worth Nature Center. Although she was on track to work in the parks system, she ended up at TCEQ.

“Looking back on my life, I can see a pattern of ending up in leadership positions,” Taylor explains. “I guess I am just independent and headstrong. I never thought that I couldn’t do something…I just did it. I never felt held back by my gender.”

Advice for Young Women

Taylor has this advice for her fellow females: “Set your goals and just do it. Don’t be the one to hold yourself back. You may be surprised at what you can achieve. Do what you can do and be the best that you can be.”

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Lorinda Gardner – Regional Director, Region 6 – El Paso and Region 7 – Midland

Lorinda Gardner
Lorinda Gardner

Gardner was born in Quantico, Virginia, but was raised in Houston, Texas after both her father and mother were transferred while in the Marine Corp.

TCEQ History

Gardner has worked for TCEQ for 22 years. She still remembers her first assignment as an investigator in Harlingen (a used oil complaint in Port Isabel), where she worked from 1996-1998. After taking a small year-long detour to work for Boots and Coots Special Services, a well control company, she returned to TCEQ in 1999 to work in the Small Business and Local Government Assistance section in Harlingen, eventually becoming the air/waste section manager there. In 2006 she climbed the ranks to regional director in Harlingen/Laredo, then moved to El Paso to become the regional director there. Since 2012 she has served as the regional director for both El Paso and Midland.

Sources of Inspiration

Gardner said some of the most influential women in her life have been her fellow co-workers at TCEQ, including Susan Clewis and Nicole Bealle. She finds both career and life inspiration from Dr. Brené Brown, an educator and researcher from the University of Houston. Brown speaks about empathy, courage, and shame, and is the author of five #1 New York Times bestsellers.

Education and Background

As a girl, Gardner’s dreams and aspirations included entering the medical field.

“As a senior in high school, it quickly dawned on me that I would be a horrible doctor,” Gardner said, laughing. So instead, she focused on earning a college degree. She remembers that as a child of the 60s and 70s she felt lucky that society was undergoing huge changes in the United States.

“There was pressure to live standard male and female roles but there was also opportunity to live outside them,” she explains.

After college Gardner joined the Army. Following two enlistment periods, she left the Army and joined the agency that would later become TCEQ, the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission. She eagerly states that her time with the agency “has been amazing and fulfilling.”

Advice for Young Women

Gardner shares, “The best thing I can say to young ladies today and, for that matter, to all individuals, is this: the accomplishments of the past are important but it’s more important to recognize a person’s individual worth.”

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Susan Clewis – Regional Director, Region 14 - Corpus Christi

Susan Clewis hands out safety supplies to a Port Aransas resident after Hurricane Harvey.
Susan Clewis hands out safety supplies to a Port Aransas resident after Hurricane Harvey.

Clewis was born and raised inside the loop in Houston, where she lived with her parents and her older brother. A pesticide plant operated near their neighborhood, and on some mornings the odor was so strong it would burn their eyes. Clewis said this was her first exposure to air quality concerns, though she didn’t realize it at the time.

TCEQ History

Clewis has worked for TCEQ and its predecessor agencies for 31 years, all in the Corpus Christi office. She began her career with the agency as an environmental investigator in the industrial program, inspecting industrial wastewater treatment plants and waste facilities. Prior to her career with the agency, she worked for more than three years in the hazardous waste disposal industry.

Clewis said she felt great pride to be one of the first female investigators in the Corpus Christi region. “Over the years as I advanced within the agency, I had the opportunity to work on many different high-profile cases and even received recognition for my work on a national case with the US Department of Justice, EPA, and Texas Office of the Attorney General.”

In 2005 she was promoted to regional director and got the opportunity to interface with the community in a new capacity.

“I’m fortunate to work for an agency that promotes women and to be surrounded by other professional women who are passionate about taking care of the environment and the citizens of Texas,” Clewis said.

Sources of Inspiration

Clewis has been inspired by many people throughout her life, especially her mother. When she was 10 years old her father almost died, and her mother had a sobering realization: she wouldn’t be able to support Clewis and her sibling without their father.

“So, she went to college part-time while raising us until she graduated,” Clewis said. “She had a long career. My daughters also continue to amaze me and make me proud of their accomplishments.”

In fact, both of Clewis’s parents set her up for success. “My mom and dad always told me that I could do anything I put my mind to,” she shares. “My parents didn’t treat my brother and I differently based on gender. My dad made sure that I was independent and taught me many typically male-oriented tasks such as how to change a flat tire, how to work on my car, home repairs and lawn care.”

Clewis has also drawn inspiration from her mentor, Georgie Volz, former Beaumont regional director.

“I had a front row seat watching and learning from Georgie as she took on Hurricane Rita, a flooded home, and then cancer,” Clewis said. “We lost Georgie in 2010 after her hard-fought battle with cancer. I learned so much from her about strength and compassion.”

Growing up, Clewis faced some opposition in regard to gender roles. Her grandfather told her mom for years that girls didn’t play baseball or go to college. She never fully understood the gravity of his statements as a girl until one day he told her that she couldn’t go hunting because “girls don’t hunt!” She was crushed.

“In the early days as a field investigator I ran into many men just like my grandfather,” Clewis shares, “but by then I had developed the self-confidence to smile and move on.”

Education and Background

In high school, Clewis and thirteen other students toured Romania, Poland, and Holland, learning about each country’s natural resources and how they were managed.

When Clewis and her classmates returned to the U.S. they attended the Student Conference on Resource Efficiency. Once there, they were able to share their observations from the trip, and that was it—she was hooked. Clewis would eventually earn a bachelor’s degree in biochemical and biophysical sciences from the University of Houston.

“I was fortunate enough to land my first job in the hazardous waste industry, which then led to my job with the agency doing the environmental work I am passionate about,” Clewis says.

Advice for Young Women

Clewis has this advice for young women everywhere: “Follow your dreams and never accept that you are unable to do something because you are female. All people—no matter their gender, race, or background—should be allowed the same opportunities for success. Remember, you can do anything you put your mind to, and in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’”

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Susan Jablonski – Central Texas Area Director

Susan Jablonski (in front, seated on the rock) attends a Disaster City exercise.
Susan Jablonski (in front, seated on the rock) attends a Disaster City exercise.

Susan Jablonski was born at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. She spent her youth in the Alamo City and throughout South Texas. She enjoyed being a member of the Girl Scouts, fishing in Rockport, and walking the beach at Port Aransas.

TCEQ History

Jablonski first came to TCEQ in 1999, after the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Authority was unexpectedly abolished right before midnight on the last day of the legislative session. During her time at TCEQ, she has served in five offices as a technical advisor and a director.

“My hope is that, in each one of those capacities, I supported my co-workers and provided opportunities for their best work,” Jablonksi said. “I believe, as public servants, we can bring together richly different perspectives, be innovative with our ideas and solutions, and effectuate positive change.”

Sources of Inspiration

Jablonski believes it is a worthwhile endeavor to stop, regardless of the month, and think about those who have paved the way for women in general. As the mother of a 13-year-old daughter, she feels it is imperative to have strong role models accessible to girls. Her mother Patricia, the matriarch of her extended family, is one of the strongest women she knows. From humble beginnings in the South Texas cotton fields at age two, she went on to give support to a military family, and later was the consummate caregiver to Jablonski’s father and her grandchildren.

Jablonski doesn’t like to focus on obstacles that she encountered as a young girl or as a woman. She believes that whatever obstacles you encounter, they should not define you.

“You should make a conscious decision on how to approach adversity,” she says. “Obstacles give us the opportunity to improve, to set new goals, to be better women of our communities.”

Education and Background

In school she gravitated to science and sports. As the youngest of the family, competitive sports gave her an opportunity to set high expectations for herself, with the underlying goal to beat her siblings’ records.

As a woman in the engineering and physics fields, Jablonksi believes it is all women’s responsibility to raise up other women, to serve as mentors, and to encourage young women to pursue careers in technical fields. She said that all women should ask themselves, “What am I doing to help those who come after me?”

Advice for Young Women

Jablonski’s advice for women is this: “It is important to be true to yourself. Do not sacrifice who you are. Port Arthur native Janis Joplin said it best: ‘Don't compromise yourself. You are all you've got.’”

Jablonski adds, “Find something you have passion for and give of your time and talents. Women are always serving as role models for young girls and other women, whether intentional or not. We need to embrace our differences and perspectives.”

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Kathy Sauceda – Regional Director, Region 10 – Beaumont

Kathy Sauceda
Kathy Sauceda

Sauceda was born in Corpus Christi, Texas. Her family later moved to Alice, Texas, where she graduated from high school. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from Texas A&M University and has no intention of ever leaving the Lone Star State.

TCEQ History

Kathy Sauceda began working in TCEQ’s Beaumont regional office as an environmental investigator with the Texas Air Control Board in 1988.

Sauceda said the greatest achievement in her career has been the relationships she has built over the years. “I have had the pleasure to work with some of the most professional people, with the biggest hearts that I have ever known.”

Sources of Inspiration

Sauceda said her greatest inspiration is her mother.

“Although my mother passed away several years ago, she continues to guide me in my life decisions. My mother had a rough childhood but never used that as an excuse as to why she couldn’t succeed. She believed that education was the key to success and never quit learning. In fact, she was co-writing a nursing textbook when she passed away. My mother encouraged me to always take the opportunity to learn no matter what the subject.”

As a girl, Sauceda knew she wanted to help others when she became an adult. She has always tried to do that in life, both at work and at home.

“I was fortunate to have a great childhood with a very supportive family,” she said. “I don’t remember having any great obstacles in my life because I was a woman. I was always told that I could be whatever I wanted to be as long as I was willing to work hard and get back up whenever I was knocked down. My father taught me to treat everyone with respect even if I didn’t receive that same respect from them. This advice has served me well throughout my life.”

Advice for Young Women

Sauceda has three daughters who recently started their own careers. She offers them encouragement, rooted in the wisdom of her own mother.

“I tell all three to treat others with respect, work hard, and don’t take things for granted,” she says. “Try and do your best and always be humble. My mother once told me that we shouldn’t spend our time telling people how great we are, because if you live your life with purpose and work hard, they already know that.”

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Nicolle Bealle – Regional Director, Region 12 - Houston

Nicolle Bealle (back row on the left) and TCEQ staff at a large-scale emergency response event in Deer Park.
Nicolle Bealle (back row on the left) and TCEQ staff at a large-scale emergency response event in Deer Park.

Nicolle Bealle, born in Austin, grew up spending time with family in the Hill Country and in the Deer Park area near Houston.

TCEQ History

Bealle has been with TCEQ since 1987. Her first assignment was working in the District 7 Deer Park office conducting wastewater investigations at municipal and industrial facilities, before moving into industrial and municipal solid/hazardous waste. Along the way, she’s picked up wisdom from several of her colleagues.

“There is not just one way to do things,” shares Bealle. “Every situation requires that you adapt to the specifics of that scenario. A willingness to listen, adapt, learn—you don’t always have to be right—and good communication are helpful traits towards achieving goals.”

Bealle says she has learned an immense amount on a range of topics, including technical, regulatory, administrative, and managerial areas while working at the agency. She has endeavored to use her education and skills to positively impact and improve how the agency performs and conducts business.

Sources of Inspiration

Bealle states that the women who have influenced her most were her mother, her maternal grandmother, her high school biology teachers, and managers from the Houston region (Marsha Hill and Susan Bredehoeft, in particular). Since she is an avid eclectic reader, she also feels very influenced by books in just about every category and genre.

Bealle continues, “My mom is a nurse. She went back to school for her master’s when I was young and then began her doctorate course work. I saw how she planned and organized herself to be able to do a full-time job, parent, and be a successful student. Her drive to perform to the best of her ability, get things done and done well, and to challenge herself to grow, have always been foremost in my mind. She has amazing people skills and was a strong and successful manager whose problem-solving skills were a thing to behold. She has encouraged me my whole life to be me, stick to my ethics, think independently, ‘play well with others’ and to not just find problems, but to problem solve. You know, if life gives you lemons, make lemonade!”

Education and Background

As a girl, Bealle wanted to be a veterinarian or a doctor and spent her free time playing sports and just being outside. As an undergrad, she ended up taking a wide array of classes other than biology and education. This resulted in a diverse education. In grad school, her master’s degree focus was influenced by all the amazing experiences she had while conducting investigations. “I loved being outside, animals, sports, school, and reading,” shares Bealle. “I have continued to enjoy these things with my family (we have two grown children). My husband is very supportive of the amount of time committed to my educational and professional endeavors and is the most significant contributor to my ability to provide focus to my various jobs and roles while at the agency. He is my rock.”

She doesn’t really feel that she has encountered many obstacles because of her gender, although being one of only a few females in a male-dominated profession did inspire her to prove her abilities. “I’ve been told I can be rather a presence when on a mission,” she says. “Getting a job with TCEQ opened my eyes to other ways to apply the love of science and learning. I didn’t realize I had interest in some of the things I have been challenged to do while here.”

Advice for Young Women

Bealle leaves this wisdom for fellow women: “Learn something from your experiences and apply them to your future. Develop yourself and your voice. As Madeleine Albright said, ‘It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.’”

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All photos TCEQ.