Laurie Eisenberg May

Secretary/Treasurer, The Free State Foundation, The Free State Foundation

Class Year


Professional Background

I was hired immediately upon graduation by the newly created U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. At the request of the new Administrator, William Ruckelshaus, they were looking for recent grads. About twenty of us were hired and sprinkled across the agency, with key executives each given a chance to hire someone they thought could help build the agency for the future. Charlie Barden, the first director of personnel for EPA and a mid-1950's Duke grad, made me an offer based on my Phi Beta Kappa standing at Duke and my degree in English. He was looking for someone to start the first management publication for the new agency. I initially thought this would be a temporary job, but it lasted from 1971 until 2004! It turns out that having the ability to write and analyze, like only an English major can, is extremely useful among a sea of scientists, engineers, and lawyers. Over the course of my career at EPA, I worked directly for a dozen Senate-confirmed Presidential appointees across three elements of the agency, and served in my last capacity as Senior Program Management Official for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. It was a very exciting place to be and a gratifying career. When I left EPA, I worked as an independent management consultant for another 8 years or so, again using my writing and analytic skills and management expertise gained at EPA, to lead numerous studies at the National Academy of Public Administration and other organizations conducted various research. Many of these studies were mandated by Congress or initiated by Federal agencies seeking outside expertise to solve problems and/or plan for the future.

How has being an English graduate from Duke University helped shape your professional success?

At Duke, I learned to think critically and to write precisely. Dean Juanita Kreps was the Dean of Women when I was at Duke. She, of course, went on to serve in the Cabinet, so it should not be surprising that she gave me good advice as to how to find a job in Washington, DC. She even got me an interview and ultimately a job offer from the Washington Post, but I turned it down to join EPA.

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