Dec. 13, 2021
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LLNL Expands Outreach to HBCUs in Weeklong Event

By Jon Kawamoto,[email protected]

Building on last year’s successful outreach to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), this year’s LLNL Day was expanded into a virtual LLNL-HBCU career week. Organizers came away pleased with the positive feedback from both students and panelists.

The  event’s goal was to increase exposure of the Lab to HBCU students in hopes of increasing the number of applicants for internships, fellowships, and career opportunities at LLNL and other national labs.

It marked the second year the event was held virtually because of the pandemic. The event involved several LLNL staff members, including HBCU alums who gave an overview of Lab research, workplace culture, internships, and job opportunities.

The four-day event included:

  • A career panel hosted by HBCU alumni and staff on career opportunities and work-life balance.
  • A student panel hosted by HBCU alumni interns on LLNL internship experiences and culture.
  • Breakout sessions by academic discipline, such as physics, materials science, nuclear and chemical sciences, lasers and photon science, and on networking and applying for positions.
  • A virtual 360-degree tour of NIF, the world’s largest and most energetic laser.
  • A virtual lounge meeting for several faculty members from participating institutions to explore opportunities to collaborate with the Lab.

Peer Recruiting

LLNL Day began in 2019 as an in-person event after several Lab staff members were awarded a Department of Energy Office of Science grant calling for a “peer recruiting” approach. That first LLNL Day was held at three universities.

The group that applied for the grant included Vanessa Peters, a Physical and Life Sciences (PLS) Materials Science Division (MSD) research scientist matrixed to NIF; NIF&PS physicist Zhi Liao; Tony Baylis, the Lab’s Office of Strategic Diversity and Inclusion Programs director; and MSD Division Leader Ibo Matthews.

Peters, a Norfolk State University alum, and Candace Harris, an experimental physicist with the Weapons and Complex Integration (WCI) Directorate, were awarded a new grant this year to expand LLNL Day to an interactive, virtual LLNL Week. The Lab’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee allocated additional funding support that was instrumental in providing resources for the organizers.

“We started with a small team of a handful of people and have now grown to a very large group of more than 30 volunteers,” said Peters, who with Liao and Harris were the key organizers of the event along with MariAnn Albrecht, a NIF&PS administration staff member who set up and managed the online video events and provided critical technical support.

LLNL Day 2021 Opening Session
In the opening session of LLNL Day, LLNL staff members described their various backgrounds and experiences at the Lab—and what brought them to Livermore.

In the opening session, panelists described the various paths that brought them to LLNL, including Harris, an alum of Spelman College.

“I did my undergrad in physics at Spelman,” Harris said. “In my fifth year at Spelman, I was taking an advanced lab course and one of the particular research areas was in gamma-ray spectroscopy. I thought it was pretty cool that you can detect the undetectable by using other instruments than your five senses, so I started looking at more applications of gamma-ray spectroscopy and that took me into nuclear energy.”

Her search focused on organizations that had nuclear physicists, and LLNL came up. She learned the Lab offered a summer internship program. She applied and was accepted as an intern in 2014, after receiving her master’s in physics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

She then went on to pursue a Ph.D. in physics at Florida A&M. After receiving her Ph.D., she did a postdoc appointment with LLNL with the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in nuclear policy in 2019. She joined LLNL in December 2019.

William Evans, the PLS Physics Division leader who is also involved with high-pressure experimental physics, spoke about the advantages of NIF. He expanded on a typical day described by NIF experimental physicist Patrick Poole, who’s also director of the NIF Summer Scholar Program.

“Patrick’s got teams of probably hundreds of people supporting his experiments, which is something that’s pretty unique,” Evans said. “There are very few professions where you have a team that has physicist, engineers, chemists, environmental safety people, the whole range of administrators, procurement specialists, who are all working toward the same goal. It’s really satisfying to work with a broad team like that that has an impact.

“It’s something that really can’t be replicated at a university or good academic environment,” he continued. “It’s really an enterprise that’s not focused on making a dime. We’re not going to undersell our achievement or underperform to squeeze profits out of the next quarter. We’re always pushing at the very limit to have maximum impact for our sponsors. And we work as a team, which I think is very unique.”

LLNL Internships

In the student panel, several former interns described their internships at the Lab and all agreed—it was a positive experience.

Eric Carter, a University of Michigan senior who began his undergraduate studies at Morehouse College, was a NIF&PS intern in 2019 working on carbon nanotubes, which dovetailed with his passion for cars and the automobile industry.

“It was a really cool experience, a great time,” he said.

Quahhar Fletcher, a Morehouse graduate and NIF&PS intern for two summers, said the benefits of an internship extend beyond just the work itself.

“The one internship that I gained the most from was actually the most recent one in 2019,” Fletcher said. “This internship really acted as a great way to network and to really develop professionally. It really helped me with setting up LinkedIn and talking to different people. So that aspect of just coming to this internship and gaining these other worldly things that are not directly related to the technical work I was doing was what I really gained.”

In August, Fletcher graduated with a mechanical engineering degree from Auburn University. He currently works as a biomedical technician at a hospital in Ohio and plans to go on to graduate school studying biomedical engineering.

Joshua Sherfield, a former Lab intern who was hired by LLNL after receiving his master’s degree from Norfolk State, urged students to take the initiative and seek out Lab experts.

“Don’t be afraid to just ask basic questions,” Sherfield said. “You only have the summer here. Throw away some of the extra pride. You’re there to learn. They want to teach you. Take the opportunity.”

Both Fletcher and Carter said they would “most definitely” consider returning to the Lab in five years. “The internship definitely did leave a mark on me,” Fletcher said.

After the event, organizers shared feedback from some of the students, including those who plan to apply for internships.

“As someone who has interned multiple times at LLNL already, I am still excited about the potential future opportunities that are available to me,” a North Carolina A&T State University student wrote. “This gets me more hyped about what’s in store and I hope I will eventually become a postdoc and converted to full time!”

One interview has already been scheduled because of LLNL Week.

A mentor-matching component was added this year and organizers are always seeking volunteers to sign up to mentor interested students.

Lab-Wide Participation

Staff members from throughout LLNL also contributed to the success of this year’s events, including Technical Information Department graphic artist Ryan Goldsberry, who created a Jetsons-style graphic for the event’s webpage, and NIF&PS web developer Jason Laurea, who maintained the webpage.

The list also includes: Jerry Clark, Jackie Gonzalez, and Staci Manuel from NIF&PS; Philip Cameron-Smith, Noelle Catarineau, Jeremy Feaster, Yongqin Jiao, Viacheslav (Slava) Li, Joe Lindeman, Xavier Mayali, and Yaniv Rosen from PLS; Brandon Demory, Rose McCallen, Malik Oliver, Angela Tooker, and Luciana Xavier from Engineering; Chad Giacomozzi, William Moore, Celia Reynolds, and Amy Waters from Global Security; Celeste Matarazzo and Joshua Sherfield from Computing; Perry Chodash from WCI; Claudia Espinoza from Environment, Safety, and Health; Jon Benjamin from Operations and Business,; Frank Trigueros from Strategic Human Resources Management; and Mark Mitchell, and Christine Zachow from the Director’s Office.

—Jon Kawamoto

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