(from left to right:) Ping Ge, Allison Truhlar, Jan Tyler, and Yolanda White
The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science (SC) is the largest federal sponsor of basic research in the physical sciences. Every year, in collaboration with DOE national laboratories, staff from the Office of Science’s Office of Workforce Development for Teachers and Scientists (WDTS) introduce a new cohort of interns to their very first experiences in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). WDTS programs attract interns from all backgrounds to work alongside scientist or engineer mentors on an incredible range of projects, from determining the structure of enzymes to synthesizing new nanomaterials. Annually, around 3,500 undergraduate interns, 2,500 graduate students, and 1,600 postdoctoral researchers participate in training and research opportunities at DOE national laboratories. Scientists, engineers, and STEM administrators across 17 national laboratories create a network of support for these interns.
A talented group of STEM professionals works together to manage these WTDS programs. For the first time in the WTDS’ history, they are all women. Ping Ge is the WDTS Director and also manages the graduate program, Jan Tyler is WDTS’ Program Manager for pre-college programs, Yolanda White is WDTS’ Program Analyst for undergraduate internships and the Visiting Faculty Program and leads online technology development, and Allison Truhlar is WDTS’ Program Manager of Evaluation and Outreach. As part of National Women’s History Month, Berkeley Lab’s Workforce Development & Education (WD&E) interviewed the WDTS team to learn more about these incredible women.
Paths to WDTS
Each of these women had a slightly different path to WDTS. Ge’s journey started through her work managing a new DOE SC graduate fellowship program. Tyler began her career at the DOE’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility and, through that, became involved with leading the DOE’s popular National Science Bowl. Truhlar started at DOE’s WDTS office as a policy fellow for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). White first worked at DOE as an intern for the Office of Planning and Analysis within SC.
These staff members all expressed their gratitude for the opportunity to work for WDTS. “My colleagues at WDTS and DOE national laboratories have always inspired me and kept me going,” Ge says. She has been impressed by the strong partnerships between WDTS programs and each of the national laboratories. “The impact out of that synergy,” she explains, “has been and remains a key motivator for me.”
The WDTS staff team recognizes the important role that they play as federal administrators. One of the most rewarding parts of their jobs, they explain, is directly interacting with WDTS’ many interns and mentors. White remarks, “I enjoy supporting the applicants, participants, and our laboratory colleagues in support of our programs.”
Truhlar expresses a similar sentiment. “ Once I learned about WDTS’ programs,” she explains, “I was drawn to the opportunity to spread the word about these internships, especially to students who might not have heard about them before.”
Impacts of WDTS Programs
The WDTS team oversees an incredible number of programs. Tyler explains, “We are lucky to see firsthand the impacts of our programs on thousands of students each year.” After working alongside their mentors, interns from WDTS programs develop the skills that they need to pursue a career in the sciences critically important to the DOE mission.
According to a 2021 Pew Research study, women are still underrepresented in math, physical sciences, computing, and engineering fields in the United States. Over time, many women have entered the scientific workforce via WDTS programs. As the team notes, “On average, over one-third of participants in our programs are women. It is important to encourage, attract, recruit, and retain young women as early as possible into STEM learning and research to build a strong workforce for tomorrow.” WDTS programs, like the Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI), provide many women with their first opportunities to work in a laboratory and discover their lifelong interest in science.
Bridging Classroom and Career
WDTS provides pathways for everyone curious about science, technology, engineering, or math. Their internships and workshops provide hands-on learning and research opportunities that support students and faculty from all backgrounds in order to strengthen the scientific and technical workforce and support the DOE mission. After completing a WDTS internship, 80% of WDTS interns report that they are more likely to consider pursuing a career at a DOE lab. Over 95% of former WDTS interns say that they learned skills during their internship which were not taught in their undergraduate courses.
“WDTS internships represent an important bridge of experience between classroom and career,” the WDTS team concludes, “We embrace individuals from all backgrounds and help them make a difference for themselves and others.”
Berkeley Lab’s WD&E is grateful for the WDTS team and all that they have done to make WDTS what it is today. We can’t wait to see the ways that these amazing women continue to strengthen and grow WDTS’ programs in the years ahead.