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Kristen Ellis, director of regulatory, intergovernmental and stakeholder engagement for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Environmental Management (EM), recently participated in a virtual event to discuss how communities in and around the Hanford Site can build on its nuclear expertise to create science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opportunities for the future workforce.

Among the many messages she delivered, one was as simple as it was important.

“We need to work with moms and dads to demystify science and engineering jobs,” Ellis said.

The 2022 Southeastern Washington Future Workforce Summit featured representatives from business, labor, education and government who are working on how to get students from the classroom to high-demand careers with a focus on creating new partnerships to close talent gaps and better prepare students for career success.

In a session titled “Building the Region's Clean Energy Workforce,” Ellis talked about how EM’s Hanford Site is reaching out to the next generation.

“Hanford created a professional development course designed to help teachers share Hanford information and career opportunities with students,” Ellis said. “They’ve also served as STEM ambassadors at various events, hosted students at the HAMMER Federal Training Center and are going into classrooms with students.”

Ellis also talked about reaching out to a variety of students with different backgrounds.

“The administration is looking to reach out to communities that have been left behind in the federal decision process,” she said. “We are working with tribes to get more of a cultural perspective within our processes. Northwest Indian College just received a grant that will help involve students who haven’t had such opportunities in the past.”

Hanford is located on the homelands of the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Wanapum, and Yakama tribes, all of which participate in DOE decision-making, so enhancing STEM opportunities available to tribal students benefits both the federal government and tribes.

This spring, Hanford employees joined nearly 400 students at the Nez Perce Tribe’s Environmental and Cultural Knowledge Day to give an overview of environmental cleanup and industrial and radiological safety. At a math and science camp this summer, employees met with students representing six different schools and four different tribes to talk about cleanup operations, technology and employment opportunities.

Ellis was joined at the Southeastern Washington Future Workforce Summit by John Eschenberg, president of EM Richland Operations Office contractor Central Plateau Cleanup Company, Washington state Sen.-elect Matt Boehnke and David Reeploeg, vice president of Tri-City Development Council. The group talked about leveraging both state and federal interest in STEM, reaching out to students at all levels, and retaining and recruiting talent and associated programs and approaches to realize real results.

“We are at a unique time for the nuclear industry and the potential of nuclear power in our climate goals is a key point to mention,” Ellis said. “We can do a better job of communicating about the work we do and how it’s different from the Cold War. That’s the key to being successful.”