Fermilab’s new ASPIRE fellowship for underrepresented students aims to develop the next generation of accelerator engineers

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Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory is proud to launch a new fellowship for undergraduate and graduate engineering students in underrepresented groups to enhance career opportunities in disciplines that are historically in high demand at research laboratories. In its inaugural year, the fellowship will be open to Northern Illinois University students and will eventually expand to other Midwest colleges and universities.

The Accelerator Science Program to Increase Representation in Engineering, or ASPIRE, fellowship will provide students with immersive learning experiences on world leading particle accelerator projects at Fermilab. Fellows will be able to list “contributed to one of the world’s most powerful accelerators” on their resumes. In particular, students will work on Fermilab’s Proton Improvement Plan – II known as the PIP-II accelerator project, a new, 215-meter-long particle accelerator that will enable the world’s most intense neutrino beam and power the next 50 years of accelerator-based particle physics research in the United States.

ASPIRE aims to further diversify the workforce and meet hiring needs in accelerator engineering disciples by:

  • Developing a pool of diverse candidates for future employment in the national laboratory and university systems;
  • Providing a work environment with training, professional development, mentoring and career advancement by PIP-II engineers; and
  • Equipping students with the skills and network opportunities to secure post-graduate work or employment at top accelerator facilities, including Fermilab, or at one of the more than 30,000 particle accelerators in operation around the world.

“To meet the challenges of building and operating a state-of-the-art particle accelerator and America’s first international accelerator project, infusion of new ideas, and talent across cultural, demographic and identity boundaries are essential. PIP-II and Fermilab are committed to drawing from a hugely diverse candidate pool,” said Lia Merminga, PIP-II project director. “ASPIRE fellows will participate in a lifetime experience. Together, we’ll build one of the world’s most powerful particle accelerators at Fermilab and develop the next generation of particle accelerator engineers. This is what we aspire to.”

Maurice Ball is a mechanical engineer on Fermilab’s Proton Improvement Plan – II or PIP-II. Credit: Reidar Hahn, Fermilab

The program kicks off this year and is open initially to Northern Illinois University upper-level undergraduates and master’s-level engineering students who identify as Black, LatinX, Indigenous and/or as women. Applications for the program are being accepted from September 1, 2021, through December 1, 2021 with the first cohort of fellows to start in the summer of 2022.

“ASPIRE is an excellent supplement to the university’s engineering program and an exceptional opportunity for students to work alongside internationally renowned engineers and scientists and be immersed in premiere research and projects,” said Prof. Donald Peterson, Dean of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology at Northern Illinois University.

As part of the fellowship program, Fermilab will sponsor student fellows for a session at the U.S. Particle Accelerator School, providing an integrative discipline that combines aspects of physics, computational science, electrical and mechanical engineering, and material science.

“Practical research experience is known to improve the persistence of students underrepresented in STEM disciplines and therefore the STEM workforce,” said Sandra Charles, Fermilab’s chief equity, diversity, and inclusion officer. “We are excited that the ASPIRE Fellowship will immerse engineering students into Fermilab’s research mission while providing a paid learning opportunity, mentorship, networking and academic support.”

As a pilot to the program, Fermilab will accept a limited number of students during fall 2021 or early 2022. Fermilab plans to grow the fellowship to accommodate several cohorts of three to five students per cohort.

“I am grateful to my Fermilab colleagues and Northern Illinois University for their amazing contributions to help launch this program. I look forward to its fruition for the benefit of the students, Fermilab and the global particle accelerator community,” Merminga said.

To learn more about ASPIRE or to apply, visit the Fermilab Fellowship page. Information on the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET) at NIU can be found on the CEET website.

Fermilab is America’s premier national laboratory for particle physics and accelerator research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance LLC, a joint partnership between the University of Chicago and the Universities Research Association, Inc. Visit Fermilab’s website and follow us on Twitter at @Fermilab.