Dr. Ann Shortelle:

Passion for science began as a child

As a girl Dr. Ann Shortelle recalls the daily walk to her elementary school and the footbridge that crossed the creek where she collected tiny fish and tadpoles in a mason jar.

“Instead of crossing the bridge with my friends, I would be at the edge of the creek collecting my tadpoles,” Shortelle says. “I raised so many fish and tadpoles in my room that it resembled a junior scientist’s laboratory.”

Shortelle’s passion for the untamed outdoors — for the amazing gifts borne from the water — would guide her career choices and forge her future in helping protect Florida’s water resources. The little girl clutching the mason jar would eventually take the helm as the executive director of the St. Johns River Water Management District.

“I love my job because I feel the district is doing important and quite possibly irreplaceable work,” Shortelle says. “Every day, each person at the district is participating in something bigger than we are as an organization. I think anyone would agree that clean and abundant water in Florida is as important as it gets.”

Shortelle, who holds a doctorate degree in limnology from the University of Notre Dame and a bachelor of science degree in biology from Mercer University, says it wasn’t always easy being a female student in fields of study dominated by males.

“I was in a lot of classes in college where I was the only woman,” she says. “Sometimes you felt like you disappeared amidst a room full of rowdy guys.”

Shortelle was undaunted, immersing herself in science, enrolling in her first limnology class while attending a University of Michigan summer course in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. For a time, she considered becoming a university professor. She taught physics, chemistry and biology. Instead, she went to grad school. In 1988, the young environmental consultant working in Boston headed for warmer climates, moving with her husband, Kevin, to Gainesville for another consulting job in the private sector.

The seismic career change arrived when Shortelle accepted a position as director of the Office of Water Policy for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

“Working for DEP was a big swing from being an environmental consultant for 25 years,” she says. “I haven’t looked back.”

Following her public service at DEP, Shortelle served three years as executive director for the Suwannee River Water Management District before arriving at St. Johns. She describes her job as fast-paced and challenging but satisfying on many levels.

“There isn’t a typical day,” she says. “I have a calendar, but it could change in an instant depending on the issue that arises. Sometimes, it’s all hands on deck as our staff work proactively to solve a potential problem before it can occur. I thrive on the variety this job offers.”

Shortelle’s advice to young women considering a career in science, technology, engineering or Math (STEM): “As early as that spark appears, follow your dreams. You can be every bit a woman and a scientist. It’s challenging for young women because the stereotypes are strong and the pressure can be overwhelming. I was a cheerleader and a science geek. You can do both!”

Shortelle recommends young women with a love of the sciences seek out like-minded peers by joining organizations such as the Girl Scouts or Future Farmers of America.

“Find groups that are safe places to be with other STEM-focused women,” she says. “You’ll be glad you followed your heart. If you choose a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I’m certain that following your dream, you’ll be successful in today’s world and do great things over the course of your career. You can do it!”