Faces of Food Safety: Lt. Nisha Oatman Antoine
Since the age of 10, Nisha Antoine has always wanted to help children. And that devotion, she said, came from a very personal place. "I had asthma as a child and I spent a lot of time in the emergency room. I wanted to care for children like the doctors cared for me."
With a focus on her goal of caring for others, Antoine pursued biology—all the way from elementary school through college. And just as her love for science began in elementary school, her love for USDA began after high school.
Following high school, her mother, whom she calls "her biggest supporter and fan," encouraged her to apply for the USDA 1890 Scholars Program, an initiative designed to encourage minorities to pursue careers in agriculture and science.
In 1999, she earned a bachelor's degree in Pre-Veterinary Medicine/Animal Science, with a minor in biology, from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and in 2006, she earned a Master of Public Health degree in Epidemiology/Biostatistics from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
In January 2007, Antoine applied to the U.S. Public Health Service ( USPHS) Commissioned Corps, an elite team of more than 6,500 full-time, well-trained, highly qualified public health professionals dedicated to delivering the Nation's public health promotion and disease prevention programs and advancing public health science.
"I no longer just fulfill the food safety mission. I now fulfill a mission that incorporates all aspects of public health."
Lt. Nisha Oatman Antoine
By November 2007, after just 11 years in the civilian service and encouragement from her supervisors, she was called for active duty and joined the USPHS. She became Lieutenant Nisha Antoine. This, she said, was one of her proudest moments and one that gave her a real sense of value and importance. "I no longer just fulfill the food safety mission. I now fulfill a mission that incorporates all aspects of public health," said Antoine.
Today, in addition to her work with the USPHS, Antoine works as an FSIS biologist and a certified Contracting Officer Technical Representative (COTR), which means she is able to serve as a microbiological technical expert and liaison between the government and vendors contracting with the government. Her COTR position is just one of several she has held during her 15-year stint with the agency. She works with a team that develops and manages the agency's microbiological baseline studies and reports.
So, what does she do in her spare time? Antoine works as a recruiter in FSIS' Recruitment Program, where she mentors and supervises students who participate in the FSIS Internship Program. She also volunteers her time in her community hospital and her children's schools. She serves on several USPHS professional advisory committees and groups, commissioned officer professional associations and other organizations with causes dear to her heart.
"Professionally, I plan to have long careers at FSIS and the USPHS Commissioned Corps," Antoine said. She also hopes to one day develop community-based programs that focus on health issues of women and children. "Ultimately, I want to make a difference helping those around me and to make a huge impact on the lives of those I serve."
So, as she juggles her work at FSIS, the USPHS Commissioned Corps and all of her volunteer duties, Antoine's greatest role and responsibilities, she said, are being a wife and caring for the two people who look up to her most: her 3- and 9-year-old sons, Nathaniel and Nehemiah. "If they grow up being compassionate and caring people who make a difference in people's lives, I will have done a good job."