Michelle Donaldson is a senior industry operations specialist in the Seattle Field Division. She’s worked at ATF for 18 years, after previously being a general manager and security auditor at the Port of Seattle. Her journey to ATF started when she lost a previous job due to layoffs. This required her to refocus her career and return to school in her 30s with a focus on studying law. When faced with multiple job offers after graduation, a professor told her, “That’s a no brainer, you want to go with ATF!” She believes that was the best choice of her career.
Encouragement From Family
Donaldson credits her family with having a huge impact on her life. First, she credits her older brother, who was a sheriff for over 30 years. Next, she credits her grandmother for the wisdom she provided. Her grandmother would say, “You are never too old to learn, and you never stop finding ways to learn.” This made it easier for Donaldson to return to college and become the first person in her family to graduate with a degree in higher education. She credits the rest of her family with the support they provided to help her through the opportunities and challenges she faced during that time.
Bringing family together is something Donaldson loves to do. She’s taken over the tradition of hosting family for major holidays and cooking the comfort foods that everyone enjoys. She also adds in some baking because sharing love through food is the perfect way of spending time with family. In addition, she takes great pride in her family being one of the first and largest black families in the state of Washington.
Increasing Inclusivity at ATF
Throughout her career, Donaldson has seen positive changes as ATF has become more inclusive. She believes that diverse voices are important because they provide perspectives that government and corporate institutions historically lack and need to hear, especially in consideration of law enforcement technologies and policies. She states, “Every voice provides a perspective based on a deep understanding of cultural differences, language and compassion.”
Donaldson understands the work that is taking place at ATF has a direct and positive impact on local communities. This is why she encourages others to consider a career with ATF. It offers the opportunity to work alongside peers who want to find ways to help others and the communities they serve. She would, however, like to see more diverse groups from ATF at recruiting events and more events at HBCUs. This would allow potential applicants the opportunity to interact with people of similar life experiences.
Reflecting on Black History Month
Every February, Donaldson takes time to reflect on the struggles she and her family faced growing up. She remembers many incidents at school in the 1970s where she was attacked for being mixed race. It was her father’s words at the time that comforted her, telling her she was human and no different than the other kids. Her father told her that life was not fair and that being different meant she would always need to give 150%, work hard to earn respect, and always remember no one owes her anything.