Preparing the next generation

Diverse student hiring ensures the Laboratory’s future.

By Jake Bartman | November 28, 2022

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The Laboratory’s Summer Physics Camp for Young Women strives to bridge the STEM gender gap by immersing students in a free, two-week intensive session covering physics, computer science, astrophysics, robotics, machine learning, and other areas. Los Alamos National Laboratory

When it comes to building a diverse workforce for Los Alamos National Laboratory’s future, student hiring is a key strategy for success. In the summer of 2022, more than 1,800 students came to work at the Laboratory. More than 38 percent of these student interns were women, and 32 percent were underrepresented minorities, making students among the most diverse class of Lab employees.

Many of the students who spend summers at Los Alamos will return to work at the Laboratory or go on to careers in national security. Cassandra Casperson, of the Laboratory’s Student Programs Office, says that hiring students from underrepresented populations helps the Lab meet important recruiting goals.

“When we think about why we want more diversity, it’s the right thing to do, but that’s not the only reason,” Casperson says. “Many studies show that diverse organizations have far better outcomes.”

Laboratory leadership and the Student Programs Office have long emphasized recruiting students from local and regional institutions. Many of these institutions—such as the University of New Mexico or Northern New Mexico College—are Hispanic-serving, meaning that at least 25 percent of their students identify as Hispanic or Latino. Others, such as Navajo Technical University and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, are tribal institutions.

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Chantal Morales is a native New Mexican whose interest in electrical engineering was sparked by the Laboratory's Summer Physics Camp for Young Women. Photo: Chantal Morales

“We want to make sure that students in our surrounding communities, especially in northern New Mexico, are getting opportunities,” Casperson says.

Chantal Morales grew up in Rio Arriba County, next to Los Alamos County. Several summers ago, she participated in the Laboratory’s Summer Physics Camp for Young Women, a two-week program for middle and high school-aged students from New Mexico. There, she learned basic circuit programming and soldering, and she became interested in electrical engineering.

Two years later, in 2021, Morales completed a summer internship at Los Alamos. She graduated from Española Valley High School in 2022, and before beginning an electrical engineering degree program at NewMexico State University, she returned to the Laboratory for a second summer.

At the Laboratory, working in the Weapons Engineering associate directorate, Morales became acquainted with the engineers’ day-to-day work and gained hands-on experience with electrical diagrams and wiring.

“I’m very thankful for the opportunity,” Morales says, noting that she valued the chance to play a role in the Laboratory’s national security mission. “Every job is important to meet the big goal,” she says.

The Student Programs Office and Laboratory leadership also try to bring students from beyond northern New Mexico to Los Alamos. In pursuing this goal, the Laboratory benefits from participation in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Minority Serving Institution Partnership Program, which supports 24 consortia from across the United States. Among these consortia are Research on the Science and Engineering of Signatures (ROSES), which includes 39 historically Black colleges and universities, and the Advanced Synergistic Program for Indigenous Research and Engineering (ASPIRE), which helps foster careers for Native American students.

Another consortium—the Department of Defense–funded Service Academies & ROTC Research Associates (SARRA) program—also brings students from around the country to Los Alamos. Each summer, some 20 cadets and midshipmen from U.S. military academies and Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs come to the Laboratory through SARRA.

Raquel Ruiter, an ROTC student at Brown University who is studying international relations and Russian, first came to the Laboratory as a SARRA student in the summer of 2021. In 2022, she returned as a student employee in the Office of National Security and International Studies, where she studied nuclear deterrence policy and participated in wargaming exercises.

“A huge part of my experience here has been the mentor-mentee relationship,” Ruiter says. “It’s been really interesting to see how people at the Lab who I aspire to emulate reached their positions.” Both of Ruiter’s mentors are military veterans.

“The military is part of my career path, and my academic and military careers are able to merge at the Lab,” she says. “Los Alamos is really representative of what it is to be in a national security career—of what it means to make sure that America is safe.” ★

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Raquel Ruiter (left) and SARRA student Annelies Bosley hike at the Valles Caldera National Preserve near Los Alamos. Photo: Raquel Ruiter