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Recruiting trip to national laboratory leaves lasting impression on students

By Joe McAdory

Published: Jan 13, 2023 8:00:00 AM

The trip addressed LANL’s workforce needs in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, with all the students heralding from underrepresented groups. The trip addressed LANL’s workforce needs in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, with all the students heralding from underrepresented groups.

Nine students — six from Auburn Engineering and three from the College of Sciences and Mathematics — toured one of the world’s largest three-dimensional particle accelerators, got an up-close view of the world’s most powerful magnet, and even controlled robots.

More important, they were interviewed for potential internship and career opportunities.

An eye-opening visit to the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in Los Alamos, N.M., Dec. 11-14, provided an introduction into an expanding scientific world with a better understanding of what working in a national laboratory might resemble.

“Since I had never been to a national laboratory before, I had no idea what to expect,” said Lyndsey Rice, a junior in computer science and software engineering from Chattanooga, Tenn. “LANL surprised me in that it’s filled with an attitude of curiosity, a desire to learn and try never-done methods, as well as a feeling of collaboration that extends between all experience levels of employees. This culture was exciting to experience, especially when the current researchers that met with us in informal interviews seemed genuinely interested in hearing about our education and interests, and how we could find a place in the lab.

“Trips like this are great for students because we can picture ourselves interning or working there.”

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Robotics was among the tour's activities.

The trip addressed LANL’s workforce needs in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion, with all the students heralding from underrepresented groups. “When you’re trying to solve unimaginable problems, you want as many different ideas and potential solutions as you can muster,” said Daniel Tauritz, associate professor in computer science and software engineering who was recently named the university’s director for national laboratory relationships.

“There are amazing scientific careers out there and being able to take a select group of students opens a whole new world to them because they probably never imagined themselves at Los Alamos. They can also bring back their experiences and share them with their peers as ambassadors.”

Students making the trip included Rice, Matthew Shepherd (physics), Spencer Plep (mechanical engineering and electrical engineering), Kai Guermonprez (chemical engineering), Albert Franklin (aerospace engineering), Meredith Osborne (mechanical engineering), Anna Elizabeth Byrne (civil engineering), Imani Poole (mathematics), and Kyle Fails (applied mathematics).

“The national laboratories are a veritable dreamland for scientists and engineers, filled with the most wondrous ‘toys’ — they have incredible facilities and capabilities,” said Tauritz. “They have things we cannot dream of having at a university. For students to go out there be made aware that such things exist and be told that they could be a part of this is unique opportunity.”

Students enjoyed a laboratory overview at LANL’s Oppenheimer Center on Dec. 12, then toured the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test (DARHT) facility to view one of the world’s largest particle accelerators. What at Los Alamos mesmerized students the most, however, was a toss-up between DAHRT and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory’s Pulsed Field Facility featuring an amazing 100 Tesla multi-shot magnet and a 300 Tesla single-turn magnet.

“I found it fascinating how the scientists took concepts that we learned in Physics II (coils of wire to generate stronger magnetic fields, capacitator banks, etc.) and applied them to create massive structures that produce some of the strongest magnetic fields in the world,” said Shepherd, a junior originally from New Orleans. “Trips like this offer a new perspective and are instrumental to students when deciding our future.”

Students were also treated to a robotics demonstration and tour of the Bradbury Science Museum.

Arguably the most tangible aspect of the trip wasn’t sight-seeing. It was multiple rounds of interviews with LANL personnel — who received the students’ resumes prior to the visit — that Tauritz likened to a cross between a “job fair and speed dating.”

“We invited people from the lab who were looking for summer interns to review the resumes and spend time with the students,” Tauritz said. “Many of them are still in contact with the students. Few universities are able to offer this, so it is a unique opportunity which differentiates Auburn University. Our students now have an advantage with the door opened for them. The students are exposed to this amazing world of groundbreaking science and engineering and discovered that, due to their outstanding education and experiential learning opportunities, they are wanted out there, with fulfilling career opportunities where they can make true impact and contribute to the nation. The students did a truly admirable job of showcasing Auburn and greatly impressed the laboratory staff.”

Apryl Mullins, assistant director of corporate relations at the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, said the trip was “invaluable in developing relationships with LANL team members and learning more about the lab and the hiring process.”

“As a takeaway from the trip, we plan to schedule a virtual event with our students and LANL representatives to talk specifically about the hiring process,” said Mullins, who served as a trip chaperone. “We feel confident that as LANL gets to know Auburn and our talented students, the opportunity to expand the talent pipeline will only continue.

“I could go on and on about our students, but I think it’s the Auburn Creed. It is living out the Creed. Our students work hard. They have such curious minds and value both the theoretical learning process and the application of those theories in practice. Our students care about making a positive impact on society through their work.”

Plep, from Guntersville, Ala., was intrigued with LANL because “designing and building cool stuff is appealing.”

“The culture at LANL was very laid back and that made the experience much more personal,” he said. “LANL works on a huge variety of projects. I had no idea they did so much and I’m sure every engineering discipline is represented there. The best part was meeting people who have cool jobs. Networking was a goal of this trip, and that will benefit the students who went. Hearing about options I never knew existed was also a huge takeaway. So much of the work at LANL seems like fun.”

Auburn’s relationship with Los Alamos isn’t new, but it’s gained traction in the past year. The university signed a memorandum of understanding with LANL last summer, paving the way for collaborative research and engagement opportunities.

Last August, Auburn Engineering hosted “LANL Days” where scientists not only met with Auburn administrators and researchers, but also offered a stream of presentations. Students also had the opportunity to meet with LANL staff to learn more about career opportunities.

“With Dr. Tauritz’s leadership as the director for national laboratory relationships, Auburn University will be able to capitalize on a concentrated effort to build relationships and collaborate to provide many internship and full-time opportunities for our students,” Mullins said.

Media Contact: Joe McAdory, jem0040@auburn.edu, 334.844.3447

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