At the forefront of employee engagement

Fran Rocha focuses on the intersection of people and science

June 5, 2024

Fran Rocha began her Lab career as an R&D scientist and is now a leader who supports the plutonium pit production mission.

When it comes to paving the way for successful plutonium processing and manufacturing in Los Alamos National Lab’s Plutonium Facility, Fran Rocha has a lot on her plate. As a deputy division leader supporting programs in the facility, Rocha works to ensure operations are safe and efficient while building on the foundations of science and engineering.

In addition to addressing these technical challenges, Fran also focuses on attracting and retaining high-quality staff in plutonium science and technology.

"Part of my role is to develop and implement strategies to help get us where we need to be with our incredible teams," Rocha said. "I help to identify recruitment pipelines and work with group leaders to develop staffing plans, hiring requirements, job descriptions and market our job opportunities. My goal is to help us build the strongest possible workforce to meet our mission with excellence."

From ideas to manufacturing

When she first accepted a position as a scientist, Rocha joined the Pit Technologies division during a unique era, when teams were focused on a critical transition from research and development to the current plutonium pit manufacturing mission. This mission is a part of the federal government’s initiative to modernize the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile and, in turn, strengthen the nation’s nuclear deterrent.

The pit production mission at Los Alamos involves taking the plutonium from old pits (the cores of nuclear weapons) and recycling it to make new pits. An important step in this recycling process is electrorefining — a process where impurities that form in plutonium over time are cleaned out through a bulk pyro-electrochemical process.

"Coming to the Plutonium Facility from a previous career as a scientist who was doing basic research, my biggest initial challenge was the change of mentality in transitioning to manufacturing work in a nuclear facility. And I'm glad that I did embrace such a challenging opportunity that completely changed the course of my career at Los Alamos," Rocha said.

One of her successes as a leader included bringing electrorefining through readiness and then producing as much purified plutonium metal, if not more, than amounts produced in the late 1980s.

"I'm also proud of my continuous work to improve our people- and safety-centric culture, which is such an important focus."

Looking to the future, Fran said she is hopeful that her career will continue evolving alongside Laboratory missions and making impactful contributions to national security.

"We're really focused on meeting critical milestones this year and into the near future, which will build from our current priorities: programmatic excellence and workforce development in plutonium science and technology," Rocha said.

Inclusivity is a culture

From left to right: Kirsty Archuleta (ALDWP) and Fran Rocha (PT-DO) worked together to create the Let's Talk series, offered monthly at PF-1.

How does Fran help create an inclusive environment for all employees? By inviting workers to talk!

"A couple of years ago, my coworker Kirsty Archuleta and I created the Let's Talk series with the idea of providing an all-inclusive place for employees across the Laboratory, share experiences and find mentors," Rocha said. The Let's Talk series started as a women's group but quickly expanded to all employees with a unique focus on diversity and inclusivity. The series has featured speakers from across the Laboratory, including employees representing the Lab's employee resource groups and Lab leadership.

"I have personally watched Fran take action to show the workforce that their opinion and thoughts matter," Archuleta said. "Creating the Let's Talk series formed another avenue for employees to ask questions and raise concerns so, where possible, management can make improvements. Our area of the Lab is such a unique work environment and Fran has a vision to help foster inclusivity. We have had some wonderful speakers and look for input from the workforce on topics of interest that we can include in future talks. I look forward to continuing to partner with her in this series moving forward," she said.

"We started with small groups, but Let's Talk has quickly grown into a big success!" Rocha added. "I want to continue finding ways to better promote these Laboratory programs and initiatives and spread awareness among new hires. The Laboratory is an equal-opportunity employer, and reinforcing this opportunity to support our coworkers is up to us all as a workforce community."

With increasing numbers of employees joining Let's Talk — and the Pit Technologies division as a whole — Rocha is facilitating the support and encouragement that employees need to meet all of the critically important Laboratory goals and national security missions.