WiSE Poster Series

Amy Johnson, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations

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What is your educational background?

Associates of Arts and Sciences Degrees in Chemistry from Muscatine Community College 1993;
Bachelor of Arts Degree in Chemistry from Iowa State University

What field do you work in and what sort of activities do you do in a typical day?

I work in the field of Forensic Sciences and usually I work in the laboratory testing evidence in the Drug Chemistry section. I also get to do Crime Scene Analysis on a rotational basis.

What is your favorite part of your career?

The favorite part of my career is getting to do Crime Scene Analysis and knowing that what I do could help catch a Criminal and give a sense of security/safety to the victim or the victim’s family.

Who or what experience(s) inspired you?

I became interested in working in the crime lab before the CSI television series was developed. We had a DCI Special Agent come to my high school chemistry class and he brought photos from cases that he had been involved in.

Why do you think it’s important for women to enter STEM fields?

I think that women offer an alternate perspective when it comes to the STEM fields. Women also tend to be more detail oriented which is very important when working in STEM fields.

Many women initially pursue STEM careers to make a difference in the world (e.g. make things safer, clean water for everyone, finding cure for cancer, etc...)  Describe how your current work/career/position/company is making a difference in the world or your industry/field.

Because I work for the State of Iowa, I would consider myself a public servant. Everything I do is geared towards making the state a better place to live. Most of my time is spent testing drugs. The results of my analysis will aid with prosecuting the offender to the full extent of the law and possibly affect the amount and way the debt to society is paid whether it be as time served in jail for punishment or a fine paid back to the state. The best possible outcome from the job I do for the State of Iowa would be to get drugs off the street and consequently make the state a better and safer place to live.

Was there an educational experience during college (internship, study abroad, research) that impacted your career goals?

In college, I decided to take a lot of sociology/criminal justice courses as electives. One of those courses that I took while at Muscatine Community College allowed us to take a field trip to some of the correctional facilities and the State Crime Lab. That trip helped influence my decision to want to work in the State Crime Lab.

What can girls/women do now to prepare for a career in STEM?

The best thing to do is to take a lot of math and science courses to figure out what you’re really interested in. I decided in middle school that I didn’t really like Biology, but I took courses in every type of science and math before I decided I didn’t like something. If you find something that you are really interested in, do research about it using the internet or other resources in your library to learn as much as you can about that topic.

Knowing and having experienced all that you have, what is one piece of advice that would have been encouraging or helpful to know when you were in school?

Everything takes time. I didn’t get my job in the crime lab right out of college. I got a job in Chemistry at a veterinary pharmaceutical company and got over six years of experience doing chemistry before I got my job at the State Crime Lab. If you’re really interested in something, you have to realize it may take time to get there. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get your dream job right after college. Go and find something that will help you get skills and experience in a related field, or continue on with school to get a higher education, but don’t give up. If you’re dedicated and determined, you will eventually get there.

Learn more about other women featured in the WiSE Poster Series:

photograph of Amy
photograph of Amy
photograph of Mary
photograph of Colleen
photograph of Kim
photograph of Kendra
DeDee Smidt
Principal Financial
Mary Rukashaza
Pella Corporation
Colleen Becker
Rockwell Collins
Kendra Frazier
Dupont Pioneer

Want more information on finding a STEM career? Check out these links:

For more information contact:

Lora Leigh Chrystal, Director
Program for Women in Science and Engineering
218 Carver Hall
Ames, IA 50011-2060
(515) 294-4317
lchrysta@iastate.edu