Josetta Jones knows she had a lucky childhood. She grew up in Houston, and her parents stressed education. Both had doctorates, and her father was dean of the graduate school at Texas Southern University. She went to a private school, and “my parents made me go to summer school for technology,” she says. That background propelled her to study chemical engineering at Northwestern University, get a law degree at Texas Southern University, and earn a master of laws degree from George Washington University.
That’s a vastly different upbringing than that of most of the young girls she now mentors, in and around Richmond and Oakland, California. “I didn’t have the lack that some of these girls do,” she says. Jones is the managing intellectual property counsel of downstream, chemicals, and midstream for Chevron, the energy giant based in San Ramon, California. But, she also puts in hours showing girls and young women of color, who often don’t have the advantages and opportunities she had, that learning, especially in the STEM fields, can be a path worth following.
Both she and Chevron see the value in developing relationships with nonprofits, including organizations that promote the sciences. “It is important to give back,” Jones says. “People may not know about the opportunities out there, especially in STEM fields. It is very different from when I was a girl. There are so many opportunities now.”
Some of the girls she works with come from disadvantaged communities, she says. She volunteers with two organizations, Techbridge Girls and Girls Inc., which give the girls something to do after school and, more importantly, a chance to interact with people they might not typically meet. “There are not many lawyers or engineers in their families or neighborhoods,” Jones says.
Jones started working with Techbridge Girls about fifteen years ago. The organization began, in 2000, as a program to expand the academic and career options for girls in grades five to twelve who are interested in science, technology, and engineering, through after-school and summer programs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jones volunteers about twice a year in the classroom and is on the organization’s Regional Advisory Council. Sometimes the girls come to Chevron to see the work being done there, but more often Jones goes to their Oakland location to create and collaborate on hands-on projects. In teaching about intellectual property, she offers real-world examples. “I ask the kids, ‘What in your life might need a patent or a trademark, like a cell phone or a slogan for McDonalds?’” she says. “Some girls wonder what it all means, so I try to think of pertinent examples that resonate with them.”
Girls Inc. is a national organization dedicated to empowering girls and young women in general. “Their motto is ‘Strong, Smart, and Bold,’” Jones says. “They look at developing well-rounded girls.” Chevron has partnered with the organization for the past few years. In 2015 the company funded the construction of a related tech center, called the Fab Lab, at an area high school. The lab has computers, a 3-D printer, a laser printer, a vinyl fabrication machine, and classrooms. The lab is available to the high school students as well as the community, including the girls from Girls Inc. The girls have used the equipment to, among other things, design and laser cut graphics into wood. “They can see all the applications, from using the computer to the laser cutter, and put it all together,” Jones says. Another project has involved using wooden blocks to build the longest bridge possible and roll a ball on it. “We have done that several times, and it is never done the same way,” Jones says. “It really opens their eyes. We don’t do hard chemistry or math problem-solving. This is the first phase of STEM—letting go and opening up to creativity.”
Girls from Girls Inc. have also come to Chevron on occasion; on one visit, they made ice cream that was frozen using liquid nitrogen. “We discussed how different milks—soy, coconut, dairy—and add-ons like nuts, candy, and cookies would impact the ice cream,” Jones says. “That was really fun.”
During a recent class at the Girls Inc. house in Richmond, she and another Chevron woman patent attorney led a “spa day,” and the girls made products such as bath salts, lip balms, and shower scrubs. “We talked about different chemical principals and why you get fizz from bath salts,” says Jones, who worked as a chemical engineer before going to law school. It gave the girls an opportunity to think about the products in their daily lives, and one girl even showed an interest in creating a new product and starting a business. “We talked about how all it takes is an idea and differentiating yourself,” Jones says.
As much as she loves simply working with the girls on projects in the Fab Lab and showing them that women of color can be interested in and have a rewarding and exciting career in STEM fields, she gets a lot back as well. Mainly, in the joy of science. “Your day job is very serious,” she says. “The girls are serious in a different way—in embracing life and the little things that make them laugh.” During a team-building exercise involving a hula hoop, “the girls giggled the whole time,” Jones adds. “To see the fun that’s out there, their excitement, is exciting to me. In our rush and deadlines, the fun and excitement can be overlooked. I take that back to the office with me.”
Photo by Marc Olivier Le Blanc
Merchant & Gould:
“Josetta is an excellent attorney but an even better manager. She cares deeply about her work, Chevron, and most about the people with which she works. It is an honor to work with Josetta as her outside counsel.”
-E. Joseph Gess, Partner