Roderquita grew up in Georgia, where she was encouraged by her family and community. Her mother was active in her church, while her godfather was the first black mayor of Lithonia, Georgia. Their examples showed her what a difference one person can make and inspired her to start a nonprofit of her own to help young people.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up down south in Georgia, and most of my time was spent in church. Going to church was the focus growing up in my house. We were in church almost every day. We had choir practice, play practice, bible study, choir concerts, ministry meetings, church conferences, Sunday school, and regular church services twice on Sundays. My parents balanced it out by allowing us to participate in extra-curricular activities after school. Participating in church functions helped develop the foundation of who I am today.
Who or what inspired you growing up?
Today, many children are inspired by what they see on TV, but I was inspired by what I saw every day. My family members were my role models, especially my mother and other women in the church. They inspired me to believe in myself and do more with my life. My mother is an advocate for children and she assist families with raising their children. My godfather was the first black mayor of Lithonia, Georgia. This was historical, but as a child watching them count the votes had an immeasurable impact on the difference I could make through my life and in my community.
What do you like to do for fun on your free time?
Mentoring young people and music brings me great joy. In 2009, I started a nonprofit to help youth navigate through their life processes. Music is one of the tools I use to encourage and funnel love through various activities. I have been singing and training young voices for over 30 years. Music is food for my soul, and it is a blessing to be able to train youth to sing and play instruments.
What do you do in the Forest Service and when did you start working here?
June 2004 is when I joined the Forest Service. The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) had an ongoing cooperative agreement in place to mentor students from Clark Atlanta University. I and one other doctoral student were recruited for the “next generation of scientists” initiative program. We entered the Forest Service through the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP), which is now called Pathways. After completing my degree, my research journey began by developing a comprehensive research mission to isolate individual chemicals from underutilized and less-desirable wood species that may have high potential value in the areas of drug discovery and new product development. Wood chemical research began in the early 1900s, and in the 21st century, exploring wood biomass as a valuable resource for bio-fuels and high-value specialty chemicals has become a focal point. My research objectives include identifying trace components in complex mixtures and characterizing material properties to see if they can be used for environmental and therapeutic remedies.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I enjoy mentoring and collaborating with scientists and faculty. One of my career goals is to build interdisciplinary teams of researchers inside and outside my agency to accomplish the mission of the Forest Servic
e. I'm a graduate of a HBCU (Historical Black Colleges and Universities), and on my research journey, I establish collaborations with other HBCU institutions and introduce my peers to Forest Service resources in sustainability and nanotechnology. For example, in summer 2018, Johnson C. Smith University hosted a research experience for K-12 public school teachers in Charlotte, NC at which participants created materials using the nanocellulose produced at the Forest Products Laboratory. My desire is to increase the pool of diverse candidates for our agency by sharing our work with this demographic.
How has your education, background, or personal experiences prepared you for the work that you do now?
My first exposure to science was in elementary school, when we would go on field trips to the nearby Fernbank science center observatory. After school, I would walk across the street to the center to kill time until my mother arrived. I would walk around the center reading the different science displays and playing with the interactive science games. My interest in science blossomed during my 11th grade year in high school. My teacher Ms. Heath loved chemistry, and that love was contagious. She resembled a mad scientist dressed in her white laboratory coat, and I have had a love
--hate relationship with chemistry ever since.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
I believe that Forest Service research and development is being recognized in the area of nanotechnology. Because we generate our own nanocellulose materials, we have several collaborations in this area. Recognition of developments in nanocellulose research often take place quickly because the public can feel instant impact of our work. I would like the public to know that the research we do is life changing, environmentally safe, and generating cost-effective applications.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
You have what it takes to be successful in the Forest Service. No matter how much the area of STEM evolves, there is a place in the Forest Service that is uniquely designed for you to make an impact, innovate, and inspire. When you start your career, identify mentors and find ways to continue to be relevant to the community through the Forest Service mission.