Diversity and engineering at Fermilab

From left: engineers Lucy Nobrega, Maurice Ball and Jonathan Edelen finish their visit to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Photo courtesy of Lucy Nobrega

I took my 12-year-old daughter and her friend to see the movie “Hidden Figures” last winter. The film tells the true story of the challenges faced by three African-American female mathematicians in the NASA space program in the 1960s. Since my daughter wants to be a chemical engineer when she grows up, the movie really hit a nerve with her and sparked several candid conversations about diversity. While the workplace has transformed dramatically since the era of the space race, corporations are still striving to increase diversity. Fermilab is right there with them.

Twenty percent of all engineering graduates are women, but women make up only about 9 percent of Fermilab’s engineering community. Underrepresented minorities are similarly — well — underrepresented.

The Fermilab Engineering Advisory Council (EAC) is a group of engineers working to address engineering issues at Fermilab, and we are making efforts to improve diversity both in recruitment and retention. Maurice Ball, Jonathan Edelen and I make up the Diversity Subcommittee on the EAC.

In conjunction with the laboratory Diversity and Inclusion Office, we started a Society of Women Engineers chapter at Fermilab (fSWE). This group, chaired by Mayling Wong-Squires, meets once a month and focuses on “reaching out” by getting involved in general SWE activities and maintaining contacts with other SWE members and university chapters. It also focuses on “reaching in” by fostering relationships among Fermilab members.

The EAC is also working to expand the talent pool for engineering hires by facilitating engineer visits to local universities to share information about Fermilab and our work experiences. Our first visit to the SWE chapter at the University of Illinois in May was coordinated through fSWE. About 30 graduate and undergraduate students attended, and we received positive feedback from the student organizers. Something that surprised us was that many of the students didn’t know Fermilab existed!

A standard outreach package is available to any engineer who would like to visit a university group such as SWE, the National Society of Black Engineers or the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. The package makes it easy as possible for the engineer to present to other potential future engineers.

If you’d like to become a part of our outreach effort, please get in touch with us. You can write to lnobrega@fnal.gov. We’d love to hear from you.

Lucy Nobrega is an engineer and a member of the Fermilab Engineering Advisory Council.