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ORAU-sponsored Tennessee Valley Corridor session focuses on regional collaboration to strengthen scientific workforce

Special emphasis placed on opportunities for diversity and inclusion, need for skilled tradespeople

The importance of collaboration in strengthening the region’s workforce—to include the science workforce and tradespeople—and the need to increase diversity of talent were among the topics discussed during an ORAU-sponsored session of the Tennessee Valley Corridor Summit, held in-person and virtually on June 2 and 3, 2021.

Andy Page, ORAU president and CEO, spoke of ORAU’s partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and other federal agencies. ORAU and the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education placed more than 9,000 research program participants in more than 250 national laboratories and federally funded research centers across the country last year.

Page highlighted ORAU’s long-standing partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which has existed since the inception of both organizations 75 years ago.

“We are committed to growing and fostering our partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory in new ways to continue providing a diverse and talented pipeline of students for the laboratory’s workforce needs of the future,” he said.  

Page explained the regional synergy that happens when research program participants, who gain valuable experience conducting bench-side research with experienced scientists and research mentors, go out into the workforce when their experience ends. The vast majority of participants stay in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields. “In many cases, they are finding their way to being part of your companies and being part of your payrolls,” Page told the audience.

Page introduced Harry L. Williams, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, who spoke of the partnership between ORAU and the TMCF, which began two years ago. For Williams, the partnership, which began with the signing of a memorandum of understanding, was personal.

“Andy and his team will be with me for the rest of my life because when we signed that MOU my grandchild was born on the same day. So I will always remember where I was on March 30, 2019,” Williams said. 

The Thurgood Marshall College Fund is the nation’s largest organization exclusively supporting all 47 public Historically Black Colleges and Universities. The partnership between ORAU and TMCF gives ORAU the ability to bring those HBCUs into our 126-plus-member university consortium. Students and faculty at TMCF schools have the opportunity to be part of ORAU’s research participation programs, most of which are administered by ORISE.

“Talent exists at these schools,” Williams said of TMCF HBCUs. “And I think there is an opportunity at this time for an organization to look at creative partnerships from different perspectives and different institutions of higher learning.” 

Ken Rueter, president and CEO of UCOR and a member of the ORAU Board of Directors, shared how his company is charged with doing the Superfund cleanup of the Oak Ridge Reservation and the environmental remediation of Manhattan Project and Cold War era facilities and lands. One of the hallmarks of the hundreds of people working on the project is the diversity of skills.

“The federal government invests approximately $650 million a year in cleaning up the Oak Ridge Reservation,” he said. “Eighty-five percent of that, approximately, is people. Those are people performing their skills, their craft, their trade to meet this moral and ethical obligation we have to the citizens of East Tennessee and the citizens of Oak Ridge in carrying that out.”

He added that 2,000 people are part of the work being done on the reservation. To build that workforce required partnerships with schools, government agencies, 40 partner organizations and two national labor unions. He said 70% of the people with specialized skills are in the construction trades, so UCOR developed an apprenticeship program for young tradespeople.

Following Rueter’s remarks, a panel of experts from across the region answered questions about the need to continue feeding the pipeline to the scientific workforce, creating a new pipeline for skilled tradespeople, and ensuring diversity and inclusion issues are managed appropriately.

“As we all work together to increase access and opportunities for talent, our workforce will only grow stronger, more vibrant and with greater diversity," Page said in closing his remarks.

About ORAU

ORAU provides innovative scientific and technical solutions to advance national priorities in science, education, security and health. Through specialized teams of experts, unique laboratory capabilities and access to a consortium of more than 100 major Ph.D.-granting institutions, ORAU works with federal, state, local and commercial customers to advance national priorities and serve the public interest. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation and federal contractor, ORAU manages the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

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