ORAU seeks diverse talent for cutting-edge national research
“There’s no lack of opportunities, but there is a lack of specialized skills in areas like renewable energy. We need everybody in the game,” says a senior manager
'Our corporate stance on diversity is very powerful and proactive,” says Dean Evasius, director of science education programs at ORAU, formerly Oak Ridge Associated Universities. “We acknowledge diversity every day.”
ORAU, a nonprofit government contractor, has a sixty-five-year history of providing innovative scientific and technical solutions for pressing national issues. ORAU integrates specialized teams of experts, unique laboratory capabilities and the resources of its consortium of more than 100 major PhD-granting institutions to support government and private-sector customers in advancing national priorities and serving the public interest. Areas of activity range from advancing scientific research and education to protecting health and the environment and strengthening national security.
“We have a contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE),” Nicole Merrifield, an ORAU communications specialist, explains. “One of the key missions of ORISE is to strengthen the U.S. scientific research and education enterprise, particularly in energy and the STEM fields, to enhance U.S. global competitiveness.”
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), which is located in the same area, is a national multiprogram DOE research lab managed by the University of Tennessee-Battelle.
“Through ORISE, ORAU is able to connect a variety of individuals from undergrads to post-docs with scientists at ORNL and other government entities to collaborate and partner on research initiatives that complement their scientific mission areas,” Merrifield continues. In a typical year, ORAU programs involve more than 8,300 STEM students in research projects.
Desmond Stubbs, ORAU’s senior project manager for science education programs, says that ORAU does work across the DOE spectrum, including projects for the DOE Office of Science. Through ORISE, ORAU also works with the U.S. Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Recruiting scientific talent
“We promote the programs of our sponsors and recruit for them,” Stubbs notes. “We have a list of over 18,000 contacts. We go out to conferences and colleges and align the talent of our diverse populations to the scientific needs of the laboratories by connecting students at all levels with research opportunities.”
ORAU recruits researchers at conferences run by historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and at a large annual symposium at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University (Normal). It also participates in conferences sponsored by groups like the National Society of Black Engineers and the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers. “We try to have a presence at all the larger conferences,” Stubbs emphasizes.
He says that ORAU’s intent at these gatherings is to raise awareness of its programs and make them more visible to tech students and professional technical pros. “We manage $200 million in science education programs for federal agencies and private companies. We want to leverage all the value and diversity that ORAU provides.”
Learning and development opportunities at ORAU
“We provide research opportunities for math and science teachers as part of their professional development, and offer credentialing,” Stubbs reports. ORAU partnered with Siemens (Munich, Germany) to create Siemens Teachers as Researchers, a two-week program in which teachers engage in mentored research with top scientists on projects related to ongoing research at the laboratory.
Evasius cites an ORAU-managed summer program with Volkswagen of America called Volkswagen Distinguished Scholars. “Students come to ORNL to participate in the advanced automotive research going on there. Then they have an opportunity to spend a second summer working at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, TN.”
ORAU also manages a co-op program for ORNL. Co-ops are offered to undergrad students during the fall, winter/spring and summer in a variety of STEM disciplines. Students must be available to spend two or more terms at ORNL, alternating with terms at their schools.
ORAU has also worked with the Tennessee Race to the Top initiative, part of the U.S. Department of Education’s program for education reform. ORAU managed a teacher leadership group to provide an update on STEM progress and movements to reform science education.
Creating specialized and diverse talent
ORAU brings representatives of the HBCUs among its 109 affiliate institutions to Oak Ridge to discuss research opportunities, and promotes connections for all its 109 affiliates. “One of the value propositions that we provide to our partners, and to the underrepresented community as a whole, is our broad reach,” explains Stubbs. “We work together on STEM research and educational opportunities, particularly around energy.
“We provide a unique experience for students and faculty. In ORAU’s programs, these folks are exposed to world-class instruments and scientists, making them a very specialized group of people.” Stubbs adds, “We are building an extensive database of these folks so we can mobilize them to meet the needs of research organizations.
“There is no lack of opportunities, but there is a deficit in very specialized STEM talent, like the skills needed to work in renewable energy,” he warns. “I run a national student geothermal competition. Last year I sent out over 19,000 e-mails but I only received fifty responses expressing interest.
“When the administration talks about a real push toward renewable energy, you have to have the talent in place. Part of our job here is growing that talent and, because of our population, we need to have everybody in the game. We’re competing with countries four times our size and we can’t afford to have any group unrepresented. Our goal is to get as many people into research as possible, so we have a real intentional focus on diversity here.”
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace
“Our diversity council is a big part of who we are,” says Evasius. “That commitment is stated on our website: diversity is part of our corporate DNA. We have a biweekly newsletter and there is a diversity column in every issue.”
Merrifield adds that the diversity council puts out its own monthly diversity newsletter. “The council puts on diversity programming for our employees, and the community is invited,” she says. “It also presents a diversity award to employees who have contributed in the workplace.”
One awardee played an active role in the success of ORAU’s Veterans Day programs by helping organize participation and recognition efforts. Three ORAU Maryland office employees were honored for their outstanding record of placing women and minority non-employee participants at U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) organizations.
Still another ORAU employee went beyond the call of duty when a student who had been accepted into the program declined because of personal challenges. This employee encouraged the student and took actions to eliminate obstacles. Her actions created a sense of inclusiveness and heightened self-esteem, and the student succeeded in the program.
||Oak Ridge, TN
||Management of student research programs with government agencies, federal facilities and private sector companies