In five of the past six years, the Laboratory Director’s Office at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) successfully nominated staff members to participate in the Department of Energy (DOE) Oppenheimer Science and Energy Leadership Program (OSELP). Named for J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is considered a founding father of the national laboratory system, this program is designed to expose talented leaders to the breadth and complexity of the national laboratories and DOE—and to provide a platform for candidly examining the many challenges and opportunities that face that system.
December marked the conclusion of the year-long program for the 2022 OSELP fellows (known as Cohort 5), which included PNNL’s Ram Devanathan, director of Energy Processes and Materials Division, Energy and Environment Directorate; Bill Pike, chief science and technology officer, National Security Directorate; and Tracy Spooner, division director of Campus Development, Operational Systems Directorate. The fellowship included a series of site visits covering the full spectrum of DOE’s missions and operations.
Along with their Cohort 5 peers, Devanathan, Spooner, and Pike also developed a number of “think-pieces” aimed at tackling major organizational, policy, and system-level challenges confronting the national laboratory system. They presented their capstone projects to the National Laboratory Directors Council meeting in December. Cohort 5’s capstone topics included examining the identity of the national laboratories, proposing a national laboratory periodical, working to ensure diversity across the complex, creating a talent pool opportunity database, and coordinating programs across the complex to address emerging threats and innovate faster.
“OSELP helped me connect across the national laboratory complex to gain a fresh perspective on what we as fellows could do to better serve our nation,” said Devanathan.
Pike echoed the sentiment and added, “The program provided the opportunity to create a network of trusted contacts in the national laboratory system, which has already started to benefit PNNL.” One of the capstone projects Devanathan and Pike worked on included complex-wide efforts to anticipate and address emerging threats to national security and competitiveness.
Spooner valued the interaction with a mix of Management and Operations and research managers across the complex. “I learned how a strong partnership between research and operations can enhance a lab’s ability to deliver on its mission.”
December also marked the selection of Physical and Computational Science Chief Operating Officer Amanda Stegen and National Security Directorate Nuclear Nonproliferation and Security Sector Director Daniel Stephens, as members of OSELP Cohort 6. Stegen and Stephens began their fellowships in January 2023.
Although the time commitment to OSELP is significant—the combined schedule of on-site visits and think-piece activities is estimated at 15 percent of a full-time job—the program benefits the fellows, the national laboratories, DOE, and the nation. Fellows benefit from an increased understanding of the national laboratory system, networking with OSELP alumni, and a holistic view of the system. This exposure to the broader scientific, policy, and energy ecosystem within which the national laboratories operate helps develop leaders that are more equipped to navigate, affect, and envision change opportunities for the entire system.