The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is a DOE asset dedicated to enabling critical scientific, research, and health initiatives of the department and its laboratory system. As director of ORISE, I lead a specialized team of experts with the goal of developing both people and solutions to strengthen our nation’s competitive advantage in science. We do this by partnering with DOE and 22 other DOE strategic partners to advance their science missions with integrated solutions in workforce development, independent peer review, the medical management of radiation incidents, the evaluation of health outcomes in workers, and independent environmental assessments.
Like many DOE laboratories, ORISE provides a diverse set of capabilities for strengthening our nation’s competitiveness in science. However, one of the things that makes ORISE so unique is that it is the only DOE entity with a core mission of preparing the future federal STEM workforce through the effective administration of STEM workforce development programs. In this capacity, ORISE enhances the pipeline of talent whose research reflects the DOE Office of Science mission through recruitment services, program administration, enrichment activities, evaluation of programs, and workforce studies.
Since 1946, ORISE has collaborated with DOE to actively recruit STEM talent on both a national and international level. In FY17, we administered research experiences for 8,878 participants. When you look at the breadth of our 72-year partnership with DOE, ORISE has produced more than 70,000 research participation alumni.
Take for example Joseph Famularo, an ORISE alumnus of the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. During his internship, Joseph used data collected through a backpack mapping system to create high-resolution habitat suitability models. The research helped to develop a method for prioritizing restoration for particular fish based on landscape and reach scale suitability. After his recent research experience, Famularo started a graduate program in biology at Virginia Commonwealth University where he plans to conduct research on urban stream nutrient cycling within the Richmond metropolitan area.
Besides administering programs like the one Joseph participated in, ORISE is focused on improving the entire lifecycle of DOE research participation programs. We do this by evaluating the effectiveness of STEM research participation programs, connecting workforce trends to the economic impact of such programs, tracking new developments or changes in higher education policy, and analyzing critical shifts in the STEM workforce. One way we measure impact to the DOE workforce is to conduct longitudinal studies that examine key impacts that occurred during and after research participation appointments. A five-year study conducted in this manner for the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) determined that NETL’s investment in these programs has helped participants become energy researchers and scientists, and inspired former ORISE participants to mentor other, newer participants.
Former ORISE participant Circe Verba is the perfect example of this phenomenon. She was first inspired at a young age to pursue a career in science after watching TV personalities such as Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson. After receiving her master’s degree in 2009, Circe accepted an ORISE fellowship at NETL to assist in microanalysis of geological and cementitious materials. She later transferred to DOE’s Career Pathways program at NETL, and, in 2013, she earned her doctoral degree in geology and civil engineering at the University of Oregon. Now a NETL research geologist entering her fifth year as an ORISE mentor, Circe finds it gratifying to help other participants learn and grow professionally. Her journey from research participant to career scientist and now ORISE mentor truly illustrates the immeasurable value that hands-on mentored experiences provide to aspiring scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians. By serving the DOE Office of Science mission to cultivate the next generation of scientific talent, ORISE enables these research experiences and plays a critical role in shaping the future of science.