Nuclear Energy Educator Suzanne Baker on Professional Advocacy

Suzanne Baker provides education and advocacy regarding nuclear energy through her nonprofit organization, the Nuclear Literacy Project. Leveraging a background in art and gung-ho attitude, Suzanne spreads her message through national campaigns, social media, web-based materials, and public speaking.

Below, Suzanne dishes on what made her devote her career to advocacy, how she learned many of the practical skills needed to launch a nonprofit, tactics she used to overcome challenges, the evolution of her career, and her favorite resource.

What made you decide to build a career as an advocate for nuclear energy?

Suzanne BakerMy concern for public health was the driving force behind my support for nuclear energy. After a great deal of research on all energy sources and related grid technologies I discovered that nuclear has the capacity to:

  1. Reduce particulate pollution that kills millions of people annually worldwide
  2. Reduce the worst impacts of climate change, which is already proving to be a big public health threat on many fronts

It's also statistically the safest energy source- which is a little bit mind boggling!

What are some practical elements of being a professional advocate that people might not think about? Are there any specific issues with regard to finances, business formation, or planning that you had wished you had known about ahead of time?

I was lucky to work for some friends who have a motorcycle shop for about 6 months when I was starting my organization, as a way to learn about running a small business. They were really generous with their time & knowledge. Since they don't teach business management in art school, this was a way for me to learn while still supporting myself. I do still wish I had known how much time and work it takes to actually start a business. People tell you, but it's impossible to know the extent of the commitment until you are knee deep! The WORK part isn't glamorous, but it is the most important thing by far.

What was your biggest challenge in creating PopAtomic Studios or the Nuclear Literary project? How did you overcome it?

Being a young, nontechnical woman in a very high stakes, male-dominated field has some challenges. The biggest one is how quickly I've been dismissed by some. In the beginning not a lot of folks took me seriously. But I slowly overcame all of the cultural conditioning us gals get and stopped worrying about being polite.

I started unapologetically banging on doors. If I don't get a response from someone I want to meet with, I send another email, I call, I check with other people within their organization. And I've gotten extremely comfortable with rejection! I still get rejected all of the time, but at least now always at least get a meeting!

What has been your approach to creating a digital identity for yourself and your initiative?

As an artist, this part has been the most natural for me. I had imagery in my mind for months and one evening (circa 2009) couldn't take it anymore and stayed up all night building my first website! And so it has gone for many years. It hasn't really been strategic- more like compulsive! I think being the only artist in the nuclear industry has helped in terms of carving out my identify- I have a pretty good little niche.

How has your career evolved over time?

All artists have to make compromises to realize their vision while still making a living. This process is almost an art in and of itself. I've learned a lot about the challenges involved in creating large scale public artworks at secure sites, and have learned the value of patience. There are projects I likely won't get to create for decades, and that's okay.

In the meantime, I've started learning about nonproliferation policy and other issues that are central to supporting nuclear energy. It's a subject that I could easily spend the rest of my life learning about- it's just incredibly fascinating and complex. And these days we are working with a production company to try to turn my nuclear travel blog into a TV series- so that has been another vastly interesting world to learn about and navigate! There are many more ways to communicate my ideas than I ever realized- and I'm enjoying exploring them all.

What is a day in the life of Suzanne Baker like? What keeps you busy?

Oh boy! There is a lot of paperwork. A lot of communications. I have board members, committee members, sponsors and mentors that I stay in near constant communication with. It's a whole lot less actual art making than I'd hoped! But I also get to travel very frequently, which I love. Travel is always energizing and inspiring. Occasionally they even let me mess with radioactive stuff!

Have there been any tools or resources that you have found to be particularly useful in your work?

Relationships are the most valuable resource. If I have a question about a technology, being able to pick up the phone and call someone working on that technology (or better yet go visit them) is huge. People are the single most important resource for sure.