September 5, 2023

Diverse Scientists and Engineers for a Sustainable Energy Future

From Mexico and Ethiopia to a U.S. national lab, interns ready for a future in sustainable energy

Portrait photo of Cesar Moriel inside a lab room, wearing safety gloves

Cesar Moriel from the University of Texas El Paso completed an Energy and Environment Diversity Internship Program with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in 2023.


(Photo by Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Scientists and engineers are sprinting to create a clean energy future and mitigate climate change impacts—but to succeed means empowering the next generation to complete the mission. 

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) has opened a pathway to internship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students who are traditionally underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to build the necessary skills in environmental and clean energy sciences.

Cesar Moriel, an engineering doctoral student from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), understands the criticality of the task at hand.

“This decade is so important. It is now or never,” he said. “We either choose to save our planet or we don’t, and I want to be a part of doing so.”  

Creating a diverse future STEM workforce

In 2022, the Energy and Environment Diversity Internship Program (EEDIP) was formed with a pilot cohort of six interns. EEDIP was designed to identify talent and build a diverse workforce that is passionate about creating a sustainable energy future.

In just 1 year, EEDIP has grown more than 300 percent. Over 1,000 student applications were received in 2023 and 25 students were selected—representing 21 universities across the country.

Moriel and Liya Napollion are two of the students in the second EEDIP cohort.

Portrait of Liya Napollion
Liya Napollion (Photo Courtesy of Liya Napollion)

Napollion is a mechanical engineering doctoral student from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  

“My parents emphasized the importance of education and encouraged me to pursue a career where I could give back to my community,” she said. “But as a Black woman in STEM, I’m acutely aware of the challenges that underrepresented groups face in these fields.”

Napollion was searching for internships to gain real-world experience and exposure to different career paths for mechanical engineers within the clean energy field. 

“The opportunity to be part of a program that promotes diversity in the energy industry was incredibly appealing. Diversity of thought and experience is essential for innovation and progress, and the EEDIP program embodies those values,” she said.

Choosing careers in clean energy sciences

Moriel and Napollion, like many of the EEDIP interns, connected their passion for science to their life experiences.

“Being born in one of the most violent cities in Ethiopia and raised in Las Vegas shaped who I am today as a STEM professional,” said Napollion.

“Growing up, I was surrounded by people who were forced to live without access to basic resources like clean water and electricity,” she said. “It motivated me to pursue a career in engineering to help develop new technologies and create sustainable solutions to these challenges.”

Moriel was raised in Juarez, Mexico, but crossed the Mexico border into the United States every day to attain a U.S. education in his hometown of El Paso, Texas.

“I’ve always been really close with my family,” said Moriel. “When I was in middle school, my grandma had three surgeries and ended up losing her eyesight. I wanted to go into the biomedical field at Texas A&M to help people like her, but then my dad got sick.”

Moriel decided to attend UTEP to stay closer to his family and help his dad.

“I got into mechanical engineering by accident and fell in love with it,” he said. “It’s exciting to learn about renewable energy and how it can help people and the environment.”

His research at UTEP is based in material sciences and creating self-deployable aerospace structures. He is currently exploring how to power and deploy the structures with renewable energy sources.

EEDIP empowers next steps in STEM careers

The EEDIP interns joined PNNL research teams focused on Earth system sciences, electricity infrastructure and buildings, energy processes and materials, and nuclear sciences. They were paired with leading scientists in their field to inspire and help prepare them for future STEM careers. 

Moriel was mentored by materials scientist Yao Qiao in the Energy Processes and Materials Research Division. Alongside Qiao, Moriel worked on the design and characterization of filament-wound carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer composite vessels and rings, explored for storing hydrogen gas as a clean alternative to fueling vehicles. 

Portrait photo of Cesar Moriel and his mentor Yao Qiao inside a lab room, wearing safety gloves
Cesar Moriel working with his mentor Yao Qiao on the design and characterization of filament-wound carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer composite vessels and rings. (Photo by Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

“When I first got here, I thought I’d work on the manufacturing processes only, but my mentor went the extra mile to teach the entire process from manufacturing to characterization,” said Moriel. “He took the time to learn about my research then introduced me to different labs and technicians so that I could get experience before I go back to UTEP.”

Qiao said, “It’s important to ignite passion for research because that internal motivation can drive people to accomplish great things. I felt it was important to help Cesar better understand the research area he’s interested in so that he could build more confidence.”

Moriel is still exploring what career path he will take in the future. His passion for clean energy research at national laboratories intersects with a drive to teach and inspire future generations. He is even exploring the possibility of a joint appointment at a university and national laboratory one day.

While Moriel explored engineering career opportunities in energy processes and materials research, Napollion practiced engineering with an internship in nuclear sciences.

“I want to unlock abilities to design and manufacture materials and devices that will make a difference in the world,” said Napollion.

She is pursuing engineering careers focused on advancing energy storage, generation, and efficiency, and is also interested in careers enhancing the safety, security, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.

STEM education at PNNL

PNNL welcomes hundreds of high school, undergraduate, and graduate students annually through a suite of programs to develop their research skills, receive mentoring from leading experts, and grow STEM career opportunities. Inspiring and developing future careers in science, technology, engineering, and math is part of PNNL’s mission as a Department of Energy national laboratory. Internships are one of many efforts by the Office of STEM Education to ignite interest and build opportunities among the next generation of STEM experts. Interested students can learn more on the PNNL STEM Internships website. 


About PNNL

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory draws on its distinguishing strengths in chemistry, Earth sciences, biology and data science to advance scientific knowledge and address challenges in sustainable energy and national security. Founded in 1965, PNNL is operated by Battelle for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit For more information on PNNL, visit PNNL's News Center. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.