Director's Corner

Release Date: February 29, 2016

Building a Strong Energy Foundation with STEM Outreach


This is a special time of year for NETL as we host two regional Science Bowl competitions: the West Virginia Regional Science Bowl, held February 5–6 this year, and the Southwest Pennsylvania Science Bowl, which has preliminary rounds for high school and middle school teams February 20 and 27 with finals on March 9. We are especially excited this year, as 2016 mark the 25th anniversary of NETL’s participation in these events.

For a quarter of a century, NETL employees have been an integral part of these regional competitions, organizing, coordinating, serving as volunteers to ensure that the events run smoothly, or applying their expertise as judges and moderators. I am very proud of our work to support the community by hosting activities, including Science Bowl, that enrich science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

Since the first National Science Bowl in 1991, this unique competition has been encouraging students to excel in math and science and, ultimately, to pursue careers in these fields. Some of these competitors go on to join the Energy Department’s national laboratory system as scientists and engineers. More than 250,000 students have participated in the National Science Bowl. As a nation, we should take pride in the hard work these gifted students display as they hone their knowledge through this unique competition.

Science Bowl is just one of many STEM activities hosted by NETL. Our STEM outreach programs include students from grade school to post-graduate scholars. Throughout the year, our education outreach specialists visit local schools and share hands-on activities to get students excited about STEM. We also host teacher workshops to help ensure our educators have access to and knowledge of the technology and tools that will engage their students and enrich their classrooms.

The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) is another example of NETL’s work to “build the bench” of future energy scientists and engineers. Our ORISE interns join us to learn, and they help us further our work as they participate in energy innovation alongside our seasoned researchers. Additionally, one of the highlights of summer at NETL is meeting and mentoring our new group of Mickey Leland Fellows.

What underpins all these efforts is our commitment to advancing energy technologies, both today and tomorrow. This improves our communities and enables a greater quality of life for our nation. NETL’s STEM enrichment efforts deserve praise, and I’m pleased to tout our employees’ impressive efforts. Our talented researchers continue to volunteer their time and knowledge, placing the next generation of energy innovators and researchers as a high priority.

We know that the energy industry is going to keep growing because energy—our particular STEM specialty—powers our nation and fuels our prosperity. With that growth comes a need for highly skilled, creative innovators. As the nation’s premier energy experts, we take pride in engaging and training tomorrow’s scientists and engineers. Our world-class facilities offer a one-of-a-kind training ground, and our expertise completes the all-star package.

As the philosopher George Santayana observed, “The great difficulty in education is to get experience out of ideas.” As a laboratory, we’re meeting Santayana’s challenge by offering a chance to get experience out of ideas. Bright students come to us with knowledge and limitless potential, and we have the honor and privilege to focus those valuable resources into discoveries, inventions, and technology successes—successes that, in turn, will benefit our communities and our nation for generations to come.

As Acting Director of NETL, Sean I. Plasynski, Ph.D., builds on an extensive background in energy as he leads NETL in its mission to enhance the nation’s energy independence and protect the environment for future generations. For more information about Sean Plasynski's experience, please click here.