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Career Ladder: Regina Easley

This research chemist’s career took some unexpected turns before she fell for oceanography

by Alexandra A. Taylor
December 26, 2017 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 1


Focus on education

Credit: Courtesy of Regina Easley
Credit: Courtesy of Regina Easley

Regina Easley was raised in southern Virginia, where both of her parents grew up working on tobacco farms. Her father eventually earned his associate’s degree in electrical engineering, and her mother got her General Educational Development certificate when Easley was in high school. “She really pushed my sister and I to pursue our education,” Easley says. During their summer breaks, the sisters attended science camps and visited museums in Washington, D.C. Easley was interested in science from a young age but disliked chemistry; she was thrown for a loop when Hampton University offered her a full scholarship to major in it. During a visit to Tanzania to study natural products after her sophomore year at Hampton, Easley developed a strong interest in organic chemistry and decided to pursue a Ph.D.

A change in plans

Easley went to the University of California, Los Angeles, and settled on a research project. But then she got stuck. “I really didn’t have a concept of how to push that project to a dissertation—how to publish, how to get grants, and so forth—and I didn’t get that type of mentoring during that experience,” she says. She left UCLA after passing enough qualifying exams to get her master’s. Easley worked in private labs doing analytical chemistry for a time but was ready for a change. Her employer offered money for business or law school, and she had started studying for both the GMAT and LSAT when a friend from college called to encourage her to apply to the oceanography program at the University of South Florida. She called in sick to work to go visit the school, where she met with Ashanti Johnson, a prominent black female chemical oceanographer who inspired her to apply.

Out to sea

Credit: Courtesy of Regina Easley

Easley began graduate work at USF helping develop sensors to measure factors such as pH, nitrite, and phosphate in seawater. Engineers “would make the instruments, and we would take them out to sea and test their limits for different types of chemistries,” Easley says. She spent a total of 150 days at sea, including two 30-day cruises in the Gulf of Mexico and one in the Arctic. She also took time away from her graduate program to work as a contractor collecting samples after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which she and her adviser had decided was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help with an environmental disaster.”

Credit: Courtesy of Regina Easley
Credit: Courtesy of Regina Easley

Finding a niche at NIST

After graduating from USF in 2013, Easley started a two-year postdoc at the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) working to establish references for oceanographers studying seawater pH. She has remained at NIST and is now a research chemist working in an electroanalytical chemistry lab, where she helps maintain the pH standard reference material program. Looking back, she says, “I’m really glad I called in sick that day.”

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Joanne Carpenter (December 29, 2017 9:35 AM)
Enjoyed learning about Regina's early education and interests and her career journey.
John Hart (January 3, 2018 5:43 AM)
It's good to see a chemist that isn't stuck in a specific subject area. Unfortunately, these days most recruiters or HR personel tend to think the area you did your PhD or higher education is the only one you can thrive in.
Betty L Merrill (January 5, 2018 6:19 PM)
Thank you for this story. Regina’s career journey is an excellent example for girls and young women, especially those of color, to follow.
Ethan Morgan (January 5, 2018 7:30 PM)
I must say I don't understand a lot about electroanalytical chemistry, but I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with Miss. Regina at our church while she attended USF in Tampa. At our church (Glory To Glory) she took the time to help our young teenagers with their homework as well as mentoring them. We really miss her here, she is such a attractive young lady, inside and out.
Deborah Miller (January 6, 2018 7:56 AM)
Congratulations Regina for your wonderful accomplishments. You have definitely reached the tip of the iceberg. This only shows us that if one has goals in mine, sets forth to accomplish them and uses ones innate God given abilities, gifts, and talents, you can do whatever your heart is set to do. I know your parents and family are extremely proud of you. I'm proud to know that from this small rural setting, a young African American young lady has made strides and has been very successful in a field that is very complex and challanging. Congratulations and get promoted to bigger and better things!
Wanda Bostick Jeffress (January 6, 2018 11:00 AM)
Regina, we are so proud of you for your adventurous spirit and your perseverance. You are such a role model for other young people from Halifax County, VA. Wishing you continued success and enjoyment.
James Forrest (January 6, 2018 11:13 PM)
Congratulations Ms. Regina. I'd like to say how wonderful to have known a "home-town" girl with a success story to share and inspire the rest of us in Nathalie, VA. I encourage you to always put God first and know that with him you will not fail. Again, great job and continue to live through your work to make the world a better place. We love you...
Rev. James (Pastor) & Lady Harriet Forrest
Sandra Coleman (January 9, 2018 10:13 PM)
Beautiful journey. Just saw your mother and father at Wendy's yesterday. Had not seen this write up of your educational journey. I would have definitely mentioned this great tribute. I know they are very proud of you. Continue to be blessed. God has even greater for you!
Jeanice Thomas (January 15, 2018 5:45 PM)
It is so wonderful to see African-American women scientists on the rise. As a scientist who started a career at NIST almost 42 years ago, I can remember when there were very few women, particularly African-American women, in the sciences. Those were very challenging times for women who were seeking a profession outside of the “accepted norm.” I am so proud of Regina—of how she overcame obstacles and broke through barriers. I am so glad that during my career, I am able to witness such accomplishments. Congratulations Regina! I am looking forward to the great things that lie ahead for you.
Ruth Bowman (May 7, 2018 7:01 AM)
Regina has done our family proud. Although she came from a small town with not much going on, she has shown what perseverance, heart, and prayer can accomplish. I, also love the fact that she is always trying to give back and encourage others to climb higher and dream bigger.
Congratulations Regina on all of your successes. May God continue to bless you and increase your territory.
Cherika (May 7, 2018 12:24 PM)
Congratulations Regina! You've always been very intelligent. Continue to get everything God has for you. I Pray your safe throughout your travels. Love U! Church Family and Sydnor Jennings days!!
Dana Smith (May 7, 2018 3:35 PM)
Congratulations to you Regina I no your mom is one proud lady of you girls she talks about yall everytime I go get my hair done keep up the amazing work

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