Growing up, LaTosha “Tosha” Bell of NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation (CTCP) enjoyed math and science and knew she wanted to be an engineer. But even in college, she wasn’t sure what kind of engineer she wanted to be. That’s when a summer program changed her life.
Bell had just finished her junior year at Wittenberg University in Ohio when opportunity came knocking.
“I was accepted into a Research Experience for Undergraduates program through Wright State University, and they partnered with the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) at Wright Patterson Air Force Base,” she said. “I was excited for the opportunity, but honestly was a little bummed when I found out I’d be one of a handful of the participants that would be working at AFIT instead of Wright State. This initial disappointment was the best thing that could have happened for me and would be the foundation for my career.”
That’s because during the summer program she was exposed to the world of nuclear engineering and stopped wondering what kind of engineer she wanted to be. She knew.
Bell credits mentors and professors at Wittenberg and AFIT, including Drs. Paul Voytas and James Petrosky for their guidance
This initial disappointment was the best thing that could have happened for me and would be the foundation for my career.
“I worked with them on my senior research project, which was an investigation of ground-scattering effects on long-distance measurements of gamma rays,” she said. “My poster describing the work I did still hangs in the Physics Department hallway at Wittenberg. I’m extremely grateful to have had mentors and professors who believed in me and inspired me to be in the career I am in today.”
During Bell’s tenure at NNSA she has been a General Engineer in the Weapon Security and Control Division of the Office of Defense Programs, which focused on the use control and security of U.S. nuclear weapons. Now she concentrates on foreign nuclear threats and nuclear material for CTCP’s Office of Nuclear Threat Science. That office oversees and coordinates nuclear device design-related assessments across the full range of nuclear weapons physics knowledge, engineering, analysis, information, and technologies. This scientific knowledge, in turn, informs a broad range of U.S. and international nuclear threat reduction policies.
“There are a lot of overlaps in the work I did for Defense Programs and the work I do now,” she said. “Both worlds care how weapons work and the associated nuclear materials. My Defense Programs work investigating adversary capabilities and threats helped prepare me for CTCP. Understanding the physics of nuclear weapons and being familiar with the computational codes and experimental facilities used on the Defense Programs side are the same tools the Office of Nuclear Threat Science leverages for its work.”
She said NNSA’s missions to enhance national security motivate her to come to work each day.
“I get to work with amazing people who are experts in their fields,” she said. “I’m grateful to work with people who show me genuine care and respect and have impacted me in a way that has been significant in my career growth at NNSA.”
Opportunities for women and minorities in technical and scientific careers have increased in NNSA during her time with the agency, Bell said, but still have a way to go.
“I am often one of only a couple of females and almost always the only Black person in the room,” she said. “I think to ensure the future diversity of NNSA’s management staff, NNSA must first acknowledge the current diversity gap. Diversity has to be something that isn’t just talked about by minorities, but something championed at all levels of leadership until diversity and equity are normal parts of the culture, employment, and advancement opportunities at NNSA.”