Update focuses on partnerships

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LANL > Officials say education is key for the future

By Arin McKenna

POJOAQUE — Los Alamos National Laboratory hosted its quarterly Community Leaders meeting Thursday at Buffalo Thunder Resort and Casino.
LANL Director Charlie McMillan, Kim Davis Lebak, manager of the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration Los Alamos Field Office and Christine Gelles, acting field manager for DOE’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office focused their presentations on the laboratory’s various partnerships.
Davis Lebak praised LANL’s investment in the Community Commitment Plan.
“LANL has gone well beyond what’s required, and we’re appreciative of the lab’s active engagement and community and strategic partnerships,” Davis Lebak said.
McMillan touched upon partnerships with various scientific communities, the unions and the business community, but emphasized the importance of educational partnerships at this time.
“The laboratory faces what I view as a real opportunity in our staffing. Over the next five years, we expect to lose a third of the laboratory workforce. They’ll either retire or leave for other reasons,” McMillan said.
To address this issue, the lab is taking a new approach to its staffing planning. Historically — due to the fact that the lab’s budgets are approved by Congress on a yearly basis — LANL has focused on staffing needs for individual fiscal years.
Departments will now be asked to lay out staffing plans for a five-year period, allowing the lab to hire more strategically, with a focus on the meeting the needs for each discipline rather than just addressing attrition.
“When I look at the expected attrition for the lab, it’s really across all spectrums, from the scientists and engineers to craftsmen,” McMillan said.
According to McMillan, “the next five years are going to shape the workforce throughout northern New Mexico.
“The reason this is so important in collaboration is that over our history, we hire about 40 percent of our workforce from northern New Mexico. And that means we’re depending on the high schools, the colleges and universities here in New Mexico for something approaching qualified applicants. From a collaborative point of view, we are critically dependent on the educational system.”
McMillan spoke out about the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs LANL supports in Northern New Mexico high schools and colleges, as well as the scholarship programs supported by LANL employees and matching funds from Las Alamos National Security (LANS), which operates the lab.
LANS initiatives include employee participation in STEM-related education activities and programs and the Northern New Mexico Math and Science Academy (MSA), a three-year professional development program. More than 400 K-12 teachers have participated in the
Academy since it was found in 2000.
LANS also supports programs such as RoboRAVE International, the Science Bowl and the Supercomputing Challenge, which incentivize students to develop math and science skills.
In a breakout session, LANL Foundation CEO Jenny Parks elaborated on some of the educational initiatives McMillan spoke about.
The foundation is an independent charitable organization that administers many of the educational programs.
Parks stressed the foundation’s support of education from “cradle to career,” or, as she qualified it, “pre-cradle,” thanks to the foundation’s First Born program.
First Born offers in-home support to first time parents, providing primary caregivers with curriculum-based and relationship-centered education, support and service coordination.
In 2014, First Born provided 21,545 face-to-face home visits to more than 1,360 families.
The LANL Foundation’s goal is to expand the program from 15 counties to the entire state. A study by the Rand Corporations confirms many positive outcomes, making First Born an “evidence based” program eligible for federal funds.
The foundation’s Inquiry Science Education Consortium (ISEC) — which uses experiential methods to teach science — is currently focused on grades 4-6. LANS has donated more than $1.2 million to the program since 2011, the year it was initiated.
ISEC provides curriculum, materials and teacher professional development in order to spark in kids a love of science investigation and experimentation.
“We’re trying to give our kids, through this program, not just competency in science but a love of learning and a culture in our schools that excites kids, because it’s interactive, so that they leave elementary school going into middle school excited to learn,” Parks said.
An outside study by Edvance Research shows that students in the program have made “statistically significant” improvements in every subject measured by the New Mexico Standards-Based Assessment: math, science, reading and writing. Especially significant were improvements for children traditionally in the “achievement gap.”
Currently, the program serves over 11,000 students, 443 teachers and 37 schools in northern New Mexico.
LANL Foundation also provided a $300,000 match to bring the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s Laser i3 program to New Mexico, a similar program to ISEC. The Smithsonian grant has ended, so the foundation has offered to provide the ISEC program to any schools that participated in Laser i3.
The foundation is also working with New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera to get New Mexico to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards. Gov. Susana Martinez’s office has expressed interest in adopting those standards statewide.
The LANL Foundation will be teaching to those standards whether or not the state gets on board.
Of special concern to McMillan is the foundation’s work in higher education and workforce development.
A key aspect of that work is the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund, which has provided $4.9 million in scholarships to 1,000 students since 1999. LANS has donated matching funds up to $250,000 per year since 2007.
A 26-member advisory committee of employee donors considers a range of criteria for making the awards.
“We really have a very extensive system where we try to balance kids and where they come from so that it’s fair,” Parks said. “So, in other words, a child from Peñasco can have the same opportunity as a child from Los Alamos High School or Santa Fe Prep to win a scholarship,” Parks said.
The scholarship program has a high success rate. The foundations statistics show that:
• 67 percent of 1999–2003 respondents have attained post-graduate degrees. 73 percent of graduates and 69 percent of current undergraduates studied or are studying in a STEM-related major.
• 70 percent of the respondents who have entered the workforce are employed in professional/scientific/technical, educational/research, or health fields.
• 92 percent of all past scholarship recipients are still in school or have graduated.
One of the most successful elements of the scholarship program is the opportunity it provides for summer internships at the lab. LANL has established 20 director-funded summer internships for LAESF students.
Approximately 35 LAESF scholars per year seek employment at LANL Students are paired with mentors in areas like engineering, the sciences, computing and the environment.
Many of those interns go on to full employment with the lab.
During the main session, Davis Lebak and Gelles also provided some updates.
According to Davis Lebak, the federal budget situation looks good for Los Alamos.
“Right now the DOE/NNSA piece is about $1.9 billion to the lab. It also gets money from other federal agencies. So we are expecting it to be a good budget year with over $2 billion this year,” Davis Lebak said.
“NNSA is expensing more capital dollars at the LANL site than any of our other NNSA sites. We’re investing in some waste facilities. We have waste facilities that in some cases are older than I am. And we’re also doing some equipment upgrades and things of that sort.”
Gelles announced that DOE is very close to announcing a permanent field office manager.