Editor's note: this article was originally posted on Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory's website.
The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory welcomed its first intern who is part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Minority Educational Institution Student Partnership Program (MEISPP) this past summer.
Morgan Jones, a senior at Towson University in Maryland majoring in information technology and minoring in business administration, started remotely interning at the Lab this past June.
“When I started working at the Lab, it set me back on track and helped me focus on my future and my goals,” Jones said. “I do wish I could’ve been in person. Even so, it was still a good experience.”
MEISPP is an internship opportunity operated by the DOE’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity and funded by the site that selects the student. PPPL’s MEISPP intern was funded by the Office of Science. MEISPP gives undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to intern at offices throughout the DOE, including national laboratories, for 10 weeks. It’s open to students pursuing all types of majors, including engineering, sciences, social sciences, and business. The program also makes an active effort to reach out to minority-serving institutions and colleges with large minority populations.
“Our goal is to get students excited about and prepared for STEM and energy careers at the DOE, other federal agencies or the private sector,” according to the DOE MEISPP website. “Our hope is that doing exciting work, gaining confidence and making contacts will open up opportunities for students of diverse backgrounds and geographies.”
The MEISPP began in 2005 but PPPL only recently joined. “I was pretty impressed with the program,” said Hekima Qualls, the director of procurement and Jones’s supervisor. “Now that I’ve done it, I’ll reach out to my counterparts at other labs and let them know about the program.”
Other labs participating in the program include Sandia National Laboratory, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“It’s awesome that we are joining other laboratories in this exciting work to help students learn about opportunities in the DOE,” said Barbara Harrison, PPPL’s equity, diversity and inclusion business partner. “A top priority in our five-year diversity, equity and inclusion commitment at PPPL is developing the talent pipeline especially with underrepresented minorities, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, and people with disabilities. Being part of this program solidifies our commitment.”
Jones worked with Qualls in the Procurement Department to automate the key performance indicator (KPI) processes. KPIs are measurements that evaluate how successful or efficient organizations are in specific activities and they provide insight into how the organization can improve. Before the processes were automated, the Procurement Department extracted reports from the business system and manually calculated the KPIs, an undertaking that could take hours. Now, the calculations are done automatically in the Google Suite and the department can easily see whether PPPL is meeting its goals and take steps towards improving operations. “Morgan was awesome!” Qualls said. “She was willing to learn and she did a lot of research. She showed me things on Google Sheets I didn’t know about. It was definitely a collaborative experience!”
Jones added that she received a lot of support from Qualls, noting that they would spend hours on Zoom working through problems. “I wasn’t afraid to ask questions and I wasn’t afraid to fail,” she said. “I could keep going and get better.”
In the future, Jones sees herself working in project and program management in the technology field. “Even though procurement isn’t my ultimate goal, I learned a lot,” she said. “Through this internship, I learned about the project and program life cycle. I got a sense of things like planning, delegating tasks, and managing people and your team.”
Jones attended meetings every week as part of the MEISPP program. Each meeting featured presenters from universities around the country, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Kean University, and representatives from the DOE. The presenters discussed their experiences, graduate school, professional soft skills, emotional intelligence, and holding leadership positions.
“I reached out to one of the speakers and we built a connection through the program,” Jones said. “It’s not just us looking at people through a screen, we connect with each other and network.” Jones encourages students to apply for MEISPP and overcome their feelings of self-doubt about their accomplishments and talents, also known as imposter syndrome. “I applied thinking I wasn’t going to get it,” she said. “Always have your options open but still apply yourself. Imposter syndrome is very real but it shouldn’t stop you from applying to great opportunities.”
Qualls echoed those sentiments. “It’s an awesome program,” she said. “Participants get a stipend and their travel expenses are covered. When people think of the DOE, they only think of the science side but there are still support departments across the entire agency looking for interns.”
Qualls hopes to bring in more MEISPP interns in the future. “This year we were funded for two slots but we only took advantage of one,” she said. “My goal next year is to get more students to go through the program. It’s worth it because you expose students to a number of different areas they aren’t exposed to.”
PPPL, on Princeton University's Forrestal Campus in Plainsboro, N.J., is devoted to creating new knowledge about the physics of plasmas — ultra-hot, charged gases — and to developing practical solutions for the creation of fusion energy. The Laboratory is managed by the University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the largest single supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.