Office of Economic Impact and Diversity

Women @ Energy: Valri Lightner

November 25, 2016

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Valri leads a team that oversees Manufacturing USA Innovation Institutes which accelerates innovation in advanced materials and manufacturing through collaborations of industry, academia, and government. Under her guidance. Prior, Valri was in the Loan Programs Office and led the technical oversight of commercial deployments of wind, solar and geothermal projects. Valri is a graduate of Villanova University where she studied chemical engineering.

1.) What inspired you to work in STEM?

When I was 8, and first learning division, I remember my teacher assigning the class a  word problem for homework that went something like this:

When Mary weighs herself standing on 2 feet she weighs 100 pounds.  How much does Mary weigh when standing on one foot?

Since we were learning division, the obvious solution would be divide her weight by 2 and the answer would be 50 pounds, but that didn’t seem right to me. So, I headed to the bathroom where we kept our scale to experiment. I stepped on the scale with 2 feet and checked my weight. I then lifted one foot and checked my weight. It was the same. As a double check, I stepped off the scale and then stepped back on with only one foot. Again my weight was the same, so, I had the answer. Mary’s weight would be the same – 100 pounds. The next day in class, when the teacher was reviewing the math homework answers, I raised my hand to answer this question, but the teacher called on someone else. Their answer – 50 pounds. When the teacher said that was the wrong answer, I was the only one with my hand still raised to answer the question, so, I was called on to give the right answer. I knew from that moment that I had a gift for solving problems.  My interest in math and science continued to grow through high school where my chemistry teacher, early on, recognized my talent and arranged for me to work alongside chemists at the nearby Naval Ordnance Station. After that I was hooked on STEM


2.) What excites you about your work at the Department of Energy? 

It’s very exciting to be on the cutting edge of technology and developing solutions that will enable a cleaner world for generations to come. My 22 year career at DOE has provided opportunities to first develop renewable and energy efficiency technologies, then to be involved with the first commercial deployments of those technologies.


3.) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?

I’ve been really impressed with the offerings of school systems, starting at the elementary level, to provide career days, STEM classes, robotics clubs and the like to engage students into science and engineering fields. Expanding these offering and providing opportunities for students to conduct hands-on activities will inspire underrepresented groups in STEM.


4.) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?

Developing technology to supply our energy needs in a sustainable and environmentally sound manner will remain a challenge for decades to come. To keep future opportunities broad, I recommend students major in one of the primary engineering fields – civil, chemical, mechanical or electrical.


5.) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?

I enjoy hiking and camping. My family and I have explored many national parks and national monuments in the US and Canada by hiking and camping.