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Showing Up and Standing Up

Sharetta WilliamsNo member of her family had ever graduated with a high school diploma. Not one.

But Sharetta Williams loves learning, and she wrote a new chapter in her family’s story. She earned that diploma, and then two more after that.

Upon graduating from high school, Williams set her sights outside of her hometown of Union Springs, Ala., a small city where nearly half of the population falls under the poverty line. She faced challenges of homelessness and learned to navigate single motherhood, ending up in St. Louis.

Along the way, her insatiable appetite for knowledge never left. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from Harris-Stowe State University. And then she began work on a master’s degree in environmental management while juggling the role of stay-at-home mom.

As she worked in the environmental remediation industry, it became clear that she was missing one key piece: certification. A Google search for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) certification brought her to St. Louis Community College’s environmental remediation technician training (EnviroTech) program. She reached out to the program manager and eventually sealed her spot in the 6-week accelerated program.

Williams was a cheerleader for the class. Despite wearing a respirator per COVID-19 safety protocols, her trainer could always tell Williams was smiling under the mask.

“I love learning!” she said. “And even if you’re having a bad day, if you can just make yourself or other people laugh, those endorphins start pumping. You know, it’ll get better.”

Williams successfully completed the EnviroTech program in December 2020 and left with 20 valuable certifications, making her more marketable and ensuring a fair wage. Her job search took several months, but eventually the perfect fit found her. Bureau Veritas Group, a company specializing in testing, inspection and certification services, found her profile on LinkedIn and reached out for an interview. She soon accepted her position as project manager.

The flexibility of the company makes it possible for Williams to bring her daughter to and from school, a main factor in her job search.

“I really appreciate it, because I get to be a mom and an employee at the same time,” she said.

With a steady career and competitive salary, Williams has created a life of opportunity for herself and her daughter despite humble beginnings. Her degrees, certifications earned at STLCC, work experience, as well as personal obstacles, have given her the credibility and drive to fight for environmental justice, specifically in Black and Brown communities.

“By just showing up and standing up,” she said. “Showing that I know just as much as anyone else in the field. That’s how I fight it.”

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