To best understand where Jessica Gonzalez’s career is headed, it’s helpful to know where she has been.
Gonzalez, a Chicago native and resident, is senior counsel for BP, managing health, safety, security, and environmental regulatory issues. She works closely with the company’s US-based refineries, keeping compliant on environmental regulations at the local, state, and federal levels. But were it not for the educational opportunities she was afforded growing up, Gonzalez is sure she would not be a top attorney at one of the world’s most valuable corporations today.
Though she began in the Chicago Public Schools system, mentors steered her toward the gifted program track. After completing the eighth grade, Gonzalez drew interest from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, a highly selective boarding school. The school was looking to recruit qualified minority students from inner cities who would not typically consider boarding school as an option.
“They presented what the school was all about, and I thought, ‘That’s so exciting,’” Gonzalez says. “The only thing I knew about boarding school was from the [television series] The Facts of Life. I never thought something like could be in the plans for me, but they offered to waive a lot of the application fees and some of the other costs associated with the application. So I thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’”
After a rigorous application process that mirrored that of a college and included testing, interviews, and essays, Gonzalez was offered a scholarship that she could not refuse. Just like that, at age 14, she prepared to go off to boarding school 1,000 miles away from home.
The decision played a big part in setting up her career. She completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University and went to Stanford Law School. Gonzalez was the first person in her immediate family to go to college.
Attending Andover didn’t just set Gonzalez up for an education in the Ivy League; secondary school is when and where she found her professional calling. Gonzalez excelled in math and science, but had no desire to become an engineer or doctor. When she consulted with her mentor, her chemistry professor at the time, he pointed out that she seemed very interested in environmental policy issues when she wrote papers and asked if she had ever considered being an environmental lawyer.
“Everything clicked after that,” Gonzalez says. “I said, ‘No, I haven’t, but I will look into that.’”
“I’ve had several experiences working with those in higher-level management, and to watch the way they dissect a problem is fascinating to me.”
Gonzalez did more than look into it. She focused on United States environmental policy when she was at Princeton and wrote her thesis on the acid-rain program of the Clean Air Act of 1990. At Stanford Law School, she was copresident of the Environmental Law Society and worked on the Environmental Law Journal, when she wasn’t busy being the managing editor of the Stanford Law Review.
For the past 11 years, Gonzalez has leveraged her education and passion for environmental law to help keep BP as clean as possible. Her time has been split between advising on remediation projects at retail stations and working with refineries to ensure the company is fully vetting each issue as it makes regulatory decisions.
“BP’s focus is on the safety and well-being of its employees,” Gonzalez says. Knowing this, she feels fortunate to have an active voice in the protection of the environment and an advisory role in company activity. “I work with an incredibly talented group of individuals here. I depend highly on my technical experts to assist me in understanding their issues. The people I work with want to help me understand what it is that they do.”
When it comes to protecting the environment, Gonzalez is anxious to learn all that she can, not only from her immediate colleagues on technical teams, but also from higher-ups at the executive level.
“The most important lessons that I can take away from working for BP stem from the relationships that I’ve developed and the company culture,” Gonzalez says. “My goal is to learn as much as I possibly can from the brilliant individuals who I am blessed to work with. I’ve had several experiences working with those in higher-level management, and to watch the way they dissect a problem is fascinating to me.”
From her unique vantage point, Gonzalez feels she is poised to absorb those skills and apply them to environmental protection efforts.