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ORAU Supports Workforce Development Programs in Science and Technology

ORAU administers science education and workforce development programs for students, researchers and educators

Sonia Punjabi

Sonia Punjabi
-Texas A&M University
-Participant in the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Research Participation Program

Building a strong pool of STEM talent and grooming future leaders in science and technology requires enhancing the skills, knowledge and experience of students and researchers early in their careers. To address this challenge, ORAU administers STEM learning enrichment and workforce development programs that are customized to sponsors' needs through DOE’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education and ORAU’s Center for Science Education.

Developing the STEM workforce, fostering innovation and investing in research are essential for U.S. global competitiveness in science and technology. For nearly 70 years, ORAU has worked with DOE and today more than a dozen other federal agencies, including NASA, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to cultivate the scientific and technical workforce of the future. Through management of DOE’s ORISE and for our government and private sector partners, ORAU is connecting the next generation of scientists and engineers with research experiences that are inspiring more students to pursue STEM-related professions.

Advancing science and STEM workforce development

Because workforce development is at the core of ORAU’s non-profit mission, we have developed robust recruiting networks that span the United States and encompass all demographics. In FY16, university-level participants in ORAU-administered programs represented all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as more than 100 countries. In addition, 96.5% of these university-level program participants major in STEM fields.

In FY16, ORAU placed 9,800 participants in more than 150 programs. Specifically, participants in ORAU-administered workforce development programs represented the following academic status:

Academic status Participants
Undergraduate students 1,327
Graduate students 1,245
Recent graduates 2,912
Postdoctoral fellows 1,970
University faculty 231
Other scientists 408
K-12 students 1,223
K-12 teachers 583
Total 9,899

Assessing performance and tracking trends in science education and workforce development

As a leader in science education and workforce development, ORAU produces program assessments and evaluations as well as studies of workforce trends. These reports help customers assess impacts of specific research participation programs, track new developments or changes in higher education and analyze critical shifts in workforce needs. In FY15, ORAU completed 21 such assessments, with select highlights included in the table shown here.

Assessment and Evaluation Key outcomes
Science Education Programs at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), FY15 Annual Evaluation Report NETL programs have positively impacted participants’ academic/professional experience and progress, encouraged continued research in NETL-related areas, facilitated scholarly products developed by participants, and influenced the research interests of participants.
FY 2014 Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Employee Participant Programs: Post Appointment Professional Plans and Deliverables Employee participants produced 725 research deliverables as a result of their ORNL appointments (e.g., 289 peer-reviewed publications, 278 conference presentations, 41 technical reports). Twenty-seven percent of employee participants indicated post-appointment plans were to remain at ORNL as a participant in another program, as a permanent employee, or as a contract/temporary employee.
2014 Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility (OLCF) User Survey: Results and Analysis Data collected from 312 users (32.2% of OLCF users in 2014), indicated that, on average, OLCF users were satisfied with OLCF computing resources, data resources, and support services. Overall satisfaction with OLCF has slowly, but steadily increased from 2007 (86%) to 2014 (97%).
2015 Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship (MLEF) - Annual Participant, and Mentor and Site Coordinator Survey Reports Ninety-nine percent of MLEF participants, mentors, and site coordinators were satisfied with their overall MLEF experience. Seventy percent of MLEF participants reported that the program influenced them to seek a career in the federal government or at DOE. Ninety-four percent of participants felt their career opportunities in the Federal Government were enhanced through their participation in the MLEF program
Workforce Trends Reports Key Statistics
Stay Rates of Foreign Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities Report, National Science Foundation Overall, stay rates have never been higher for temporary residents. The 16-year stay rate was 61% in 2011, up from 56% in 2009.
Health Physics Enrollments and Degrees Data Brief, Sept. 1, 2013-Aug. 31, 2014, NRC Data for health physics degrees indicate the number of B.S. degrees (67) granted in 2014 were 24% lower than in 2013 and 18% lower than in 2012; M.S. degrees granted (81) were 6% less than in 2013 but in line with the number of degrees reported for the previous five years; Ph.D. degrees (10) was 28.5% lower than in 2013 but double the number reported in 2011.
Nuclear Engineering Enrollments and Degrees Data Brief, Sept. 1, 2013-Aug. 31, 2014, NRC Data for nuclear engineering degrees indicate the number of B.S. degrees (627) granted in 2014 decreased after four years of increases and were 4% less than in 2013; M.S. degrees (322) decreased by 11% from 2013 but were 88% greater than the number reported in 2005; Ph.D. degrees (169) increased in 2014 for the third consecutive year and is the third largest reported since 1966.
Where are they now? A Follow-up Study of Women Receiving NASA Postdoctoral Appointments Forty-three percent of female NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellows indicated that college was by far the most frequently cited time when they first became interested in their current STEM field compared with the time before high school (38%). High school and graduate school were both cited by only 7% of respondents as the time when they became interested in their particular field of science.

Undergraduate student uses Lab Tech program to jumpstart career in engineering technology

Rick Lowden

Rick Lowden
-Pellissippi State Community College


Rick Lowden never dreamed he’d have the opportunity to work in a top national research facility, but becoming a participant in the Laboratory Technology Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory has allowed him to apply his academic skills in a real-world setting.

Lowden, who received his two-year degree from Pellissippi State Community College in 2014 and is on track to complete his bachelor’s degree in engineering in spring 2016 from Austin Peay University, has learned a wealth of engineering knowledge since first stepping foot inside ORNL in 2012.

The Lab Tech program, administered by ORAU through a contract with the Department of Energy to manage the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, offers both full- and part-time opportunities for current undergraduate or recent bachelor’s or associate’s degree graduates looking to develop their technical skills at ORNL.

Overall, Lowden believes the program has opened the door to a lifetime of career opportunities—possibly one that will lead him right back through the ORNL gates after he completes his planned master’s degree in engineering.

“In ten years I could see myself as a lab manager and a master’s level technician here at ORNL. I very much enjoy being in the lab and knowing my research could lead to breakthroughs in metals and ceramics technologies.”