Diversity/Careers in Engineering & Information Technology



February/March 2014

Diversity/Careers February/March 2014

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Diversity In Action

Argonne National Laboratory: collaborative and cutting edge

“We keep an eye out for research topics of national importance, so we have many openings for degreed and talented engineering professionals,” says the diversity specialist

Argonne National Laboratory was the first science and engineering research national laboratory in the United States, chartered in 1946 to do “cooperative research in nucleonics.” Today it conducts basic and cutting-edge science research, including energy storage and renewable energy, environmental sustainability, national security and more.

“Argonne is one of seventeen laboratories within the national lab complex,” says Erin L. Thomas, PhD, gender diversity specialist. “We always keep an eye out for research topics that have national importance, which means we have many openings for degreed and talented engineering professionals.”

One ongoing project that will create a need for engineers for the next several years is the upgrade to Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source (APS), Thomas says. One of the most technologically complex machines in the world, the APS provides the brightest x-ray beams in the Western Hemisphere. Nearly 4,000 scientists from universities, industry, medical schools and other research institutions make use of its capabilities, spurring key scientific advances. APS upgrade-related job opportunities include jobs in the engineering support division, the accelerator systems division, and the x-ray science division.

“Another emerging project is the Institute of Molecular Engineering (IME), which is managed by the University of Chicago,” Thomas reports. The IME’s goal is to lead engineering research and education in new directions, solve major technological problems, and inspire creative applications of molecular-level science. “We’re looking to hire individuals with expertise in molecular science and engineering, as well as imaging.”

Recruitment with an eye on diversity and university
Argonne’s talent acquisition team attends local and national career fairs and other recruiting events focused on underrepresented minorities, veterans and women. “There are many untapped resources so we are becoming more proactive, particularly in forming university relationships. We want to engage students at institutions with stellar STEM programs before they get out into the workforce. We want them to know who we are and what we do.”

Argonne has educational and career opportunities for students at all levels, including summer intern programs for high school and college students. “We have housing on campus, so interns are fully immersed in the Argonne experience,” Thomas says. “Last summer, we had hundreds of students working throughout our campus on different projects under the guidance of our principal investigators.”

Evolving diversity program
Thomas’s role as gender diversity specialist, which she took on in May 2013, is a relatively new position added to an established diversity department. She works with Alberto Camargo, diversity program manager, to educate staff about “working among difference, leveraging difference and managing difference,” Thomas says.

Camargo works closely with the African American/black, Hispanic/ Latino and Asian American employee resource groups. “Some of these groups have been in existence for a decade or more and Argonne recognizes them as valuable resources,” Thomas says. In 2013, the African American/black and Hispanic/Latino resource groups each received a $10,000 grant from the University of Chicago to help fund their academic scholarship programs and outreach efforts, she adds.

Thomas works closely with the Women in Science and Technology (WIST) group. This group, which has its own steering committee, has been part of the laboratory for twenty-five years. “We want to further the reach for our female employees and attract women to work here. We want all staff to get engaged,” says Thomas. “I’m finding that WIST-sponsored events are attracting men as well as women. It’s great to be able to include men in the conversations about gender.”

D&I: evolving at Argonne
Future diversity and inclusion efforts for Argonne, Thomas says, will focus on the pipeline, with emphasis on university partnerships, leadership development, examination of policies and practices to determine how to promote the changing nature of the workforce, and mentorship.

To foster mentorship, Thomas and the diversity team have spearheaded a pilot program that includes social events, plus bimonthly meetings where mentors cultivate best practices and share their ideas with senior leaders. The program will also help staff members cultivate inter-division relationships through social events and formal introductions to different parts of the lab complex. “This allows staff to learn more about where their job fits into this entire infrastructure, and to interact with people they may not ordinarily engage with,” Thomas says. “We’re really striving for cultural change.”

Beyond work
Among the programs at Argonne that foster work/life balance is the employee assistance program, including an offsite support hotline where employees and their families can call anonymously for guidance about personal problems that may affect work performance. “We also have a health and wellness division that encourages our employees to walk, and organizes events,” says Thomas. “Our campus is located in the Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. It is a beautiful environment and every day you see employees jogging or biking using our bike share program.”

“Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day” is one of the many community outreach activities Argonne sponsors. It’s a collaboration among the company’s communications, education and public affairs divisions, WIST, and hundreds of staff volunteers. “We typically host about forty eighth-grade girls,” says Thomas. “Participants enjoy motivational presentations by female engineers, tour Argonne’s cutting-edge research facilities, and connect with mentors. It’s a unique opportunity to connect with world-class scientists and engineers.”

Argonne also hosts a symposium for college undergrads during which students present their work to professors and peers from other institutions. “It’s a great collegiate environment,” Thomas says, “and a wonderful item to add to their resumes.”



Headquarters: Lemont, IL
Employees: 3,350
Budget: $722 million
Business: Multidisciplinary basic and applied science and engineering research

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