Sandy Smith:

Scientist’s work allows growth while protecting wetlands

As Florida’s population grows exponentially, so do its highways and byways. Sandy Smith’s job is to find a balance between infrastructure expansion and protecting the state’s wetlands.

Smith, a regulatory scientist IV with the St. Johns River Water Management District, finds mitigation for roadway projects that don’t have mitigation banks in their area.

Mitigation is generally a wetland enhancement, restoration, creation and/or preservation project that serves to offset unavoidable wetland impacts caused by — in Smith’s realm of expertise — road projects.

Smith’s love of the natural world can be traced to her childhood in Illinois, where her waking hours were consumed by chores on the family farm and frolicking in or on the water.

“My aunt had a boat and would try to take me out when she could on the water,” she recalls. “I fell in love with being outside, working the land and growing crops as well as being around water and exploring everything in it. I always loved snorkeling and seeing all the different fish and plants in the water. “

Before joining the district in 1996, Smith worked as an environmental consultant. At the district, she cut her teeth as an entry-level scientist and worked her way up to her current position. Along the way, she became proficient at wetland delineation, evaluating wetland impacts and reviewing mitigation plans for various types of development projects. The learning process, she says, never ends.

“After 22 years, I am doing new things and learning about contractor management for Florida Department of Transportation mitigation projects,” she says. “My new position includes learning about budgets and new computer programs. This new job challenges me and is exciting, as is taking on new responsibilities and seeing the outcome of my mitigation projects.”

Smith takes satisfaction in a career that will have far-reaching and beneficial impacts for the state.

“As more and more people come to north Florida, more roadways and infrastructure are needed,” Smith says. “The work I do allows for growth, but also protects important wetland ecosystems for the future, for my son and the next generation for all to enjoy. I like to help people and protection of the environment is one way I can do my part.”

What’s Smith’s advice to students considering a STEM career?

“Love what you do,” Smith advises. “Ask yourself, ‘If I could do anything what would it be? What am I good at?’ Then go out and explore and try out lots of things. I always like to do things I am good at. So, if on your days off you spend time walking in the woods, identifying and watching birds, gardening, fishing, snorkeling in the water, boating and just love to be outdoors, then a science field might be a good option for you. Loving what you do makes work fun.”