At Idaho National Laboratory, we do a lot of things. That long list includes:

  • Helping extend the lives of America’s nuclear reactor fleet, generating 20 percent of U.S. electricity and more than half our carbon-free electricity while adding $60 billion annually to the U.S. gross domestic product.
  • Working with industry to develop and demonstrate advanced reactor designs.
  • Protecting and making more resilient the nation’s power grids and water and transportation systems, from man-made and natural threats.
  • Leading programs in clean energy research, on electric vehicle batteries, biofuels, integrated energy systems — utilizing multiple energy sources efficiently.
  • Working with community leaders and educators to secure talent of the future and improve quality of life.

With so much going on, we have countless stories to tell and fascinating people to highlight.

As we celebrate 70 years of global contributions in energy and security, we are excited about the future. In less than a decade, INL has added capabilities, infrastructure and expertise and helped transform our community into an innovation hub.

We live in exciting times, and achieving our goals will require INL to partner with our university partners and grow new talent. A great example of this is the Center for Advanced Energy Studies, which launched a commitment between INL and education to work together on research opportunities.

Today we continue our corporate investments in education. Approximately 450 interns are coming to INL, as well as research faculty to work with our talented scientists and engineers. Soon we will open two state-owned facilities, which INL will be leasing.

The Cybercore Integration Center will support protection of our nation’s most critical infrastructure. The Collaborative Computing Center will host one of the region’s fastest computing capabilities and be a major tool in resolving energy delivery and technology development challenges.

The new facilities — and remarkable capabilities housed within — will be available to Idaho’s universities and other university and industry partners.

This month, I interview the person who helps me lead and coordinate INL’s education programs, Michelle Thiel Bingham.

Bingham earned a bachelor’s degree in political science with an emphasis in internal relations from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Idaho.

Amy Lientz: What question or challenge were you setting out to address when you started this work?

Michelle Thiel Bingham: How can I positively impact change?

AL: What are the biggest job needs at INL now, and do you think they’ll be the same five years from now?

MTB: A multitude of science and engineering disciplines, as well as operations personnel from the technician level up. It’s an evolving landscape, so needs will likely change.

AL: What is your team doing to help build a future workforce?

MTB: Building strategic relationships with researchers and providing opportunities for students and researchers to do great work.

AL: What are the challenges you face when trying to inspire students to consider jobs that fill INL needs?

MTB: Students expect diversity in the broadest sense — meaning more than the typical definition of gender, ethnicity and age, but also meaning diversity of thought and opinion. The lab is working hard to address these needs, but we must continue to be diligent.

AL: Tell us more about the intern program at INL?

MTB: It's a great opportunity to apply what you learn in the classroom in a real-work setting while also gaining opportunities to develop professionally and make new friends and mentors in the process.

AL: What other student programs exist?

MTB: Can we rephrase this to ask, "What other programs exist with universities?" We have a multitude of ways to connect the lab with universities, such as internships, co-ops, practicums, postdoc associates, fellowships and joint appointments.

AL: What surprises students most about Eastern Idaho?

MTB: Two things: the natural beauty that surrounds us and the welcoming and friendly community.

AL: What programs exist that help develop skills of the future for current employees?

MTB: INL has a robust employee education program that supports professional development or degree pursuits.

AL: What excites you about your work?

MTB: Working with a variety of personnel from across the world and developing the workforce of tomorrow to solve the world’s energy future.

AL: Did you always want to work at a national laboratory? If not, what did you want to be growing up?

MTB: I wanted to be an electrical and biomedical engineer, because both my older brothers were engineers.

AL: What drew you into this field?

MTB: Luck and a desire to build something amazing.

AL: Which living person do you most admire?

MTB: The Dalai Lama.

AL: What do you consider your greatest achievement?

MTB: Raising two beautiful, intelligent and caring daughters who are pursuing degrees in science.

AL: What is the greatest challenge for students who move to Eastern Idaho?

MTB: Culture shock. We hire students from across the U.S., often from big cities and different cultures. Many students stand out because of the color of their skin, their accents or outside appearance. Lack of mass transit and ethnic food is a frequent topic. I’d like our community to embrace this diversity and be inclusive and welcoming.

AL: Which talent would you most like to have?

MTB: The ability to hold a tune.

AL: What is your motto?

MTB: Be true to yourself and kind to others as you never know what struggles they may be dealing with.

Amy Lientz is the director of stakeholder and education partnerships at Idaho National Laboratory. She has oversight of economic development, education partnership coordination, STEM education, community giving, governmental affairs, communication and workforce development. She is the vice chair of the Idaho Technology Council, on the advisory board for Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho, a member of Idaho Business for Education, on the University of Idaho Engineering Advisory board and on the McClure Policy Center.