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A Unique Summer Experience at NNSA’s Annual MSI Program

As students return to school this fall, many will have great stories to tell about their summer internship and experience. For seven students who attended the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) annual Minority Serving Institution Program (MSI), that is particularly true.

During the summer, these seven students with varying backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics who attend different minority serving institutions got to spend 10 weeks working across various parts of NNSA labs, field offices and program offices. The students gained practical experiences, directly correlated to their education, inspiring many with the ambition to join the federal workforce in the future.

For Connor Natzke, an undergraduate student at Colorado School of Mines pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics, the MSI program exposed him to the unique and innovative work conducted at the NNSA. Furthermore, he was able to continue a long-standing family tradition, given that both of his grandfathers had previously worked for defense contractors.  

Connor, MSI Program intern

Image Background Caption:  Connor by the Z Machine | Air-gas breakdown when Z Machine at Sandia National Laboratories fires.

Connor’s perspective:

When I began my summer internship at the NNSA, I had no idea what the organization accomplished, or the role of the federal government in managing our national labs. The college I attend did not have a substantial NNSA presence during its annual on-campus job fairs, instead being overshadowed by the plethora of petroleum, mechanical, and chemical engineering companies. As a result, my time spent at the NNSA opened my mind to the state-of-the-art work being done, the hard-working employees that compose the agency and their commitment to fulfilling NNSA’s mission.

Given that both of my grandfathers worked for defense contractors during the height of the Cold War, my family instilled in me a certain sense of patriotism. We have always supported the defense industry in the United States, and I have longed to be a part of it since I began my studies in engineering. To that end, the summer opportunity at NNSA gave me the chance to experience the mission first hand. I’ve also gained tangible insight into the steps I would need to take in my pursuit for a career in nuclear field. During my internship, my coworkers were extremely helpful in teaching me how the federal government functions, and also showed me just how tight knit the working relationships at NNSA is. Every person I encountered showed a deep rooted passion for their job, and pride in the work that they do on behalf of the United States. I am extremely grateful to have been a part of the organization and now look forward to working in the nuclear industry upon completion of my degree.

Maurice, MSI Program intern

Maurice’s perspective:

As a graduate student at Florida A&M University pursuing a Masters in Industrial/Manufacturing Engineering, the MSI program gave me the opportunity to utilize my academic experience in Quality Control and ISO 9000.

I was placed in the Office of Audit Coordination and Internal Affairs. Upon starting the internship, I was initially unsure of what to expect from a federal government agency with nuclear responsibilities. Then, to throw in the acronym usage which I now know is common within the federal environment, I was met with a steep learning curve. Nevertheless, I overcame that obstacle with the assistance of my co-workers, who ensured I was equipped with the necessary learnings to get up to speed.

Through the internship, I learned how various multifaceted parts of the department – labs and program offices contribute to the overall nuclear mission at NNSA. This experience afforded me the opportunity to work on exciting projects while also partaking in learning modules and other online training programs that facilitated the transition into the federal work system. Having experienced the MSI program firsthand, I highly recommend it to future students. It is likely the best opportunity possible to truly experience and understand the federal government, and gain practical work experience.

During our time in the program, students got the opportunity to interact with NNSA senior level management in various departments, including the Department of Energy's Under Secretary for nuclear security and NNSA Administrator Frank Klotz, and the Associate Administrator for External Affairs, Clarence Bishop.

Frank Lowery, Deputy Associate Administrator for Management and Budget also worked with and mentored the students. His involvement motivated us to pursue federal careers as we select our prospective employers in the future.

About the MSI Program

The MSI Internship Program offers undergraduate or graduate student attending a participating Minority Serving Institution the opportunity to explore future careers, through practical work experiences directly related to their academic background at world-class scientific facilities or Federal offices across the country. Prospective students are afforded a real opportunity to combine their studies with on-the-job training and experience as it directly relates to their academic program, so that they can make more informed career choices in the future. For 10 weeks during the summer break, they are given the opportunity to work on exciting projects in research environments with some of the nation’s top scientists and engineers at NNSA’s laboratories, Federal field offices or with small business partners. 

For information on eligibility requirements and applying for these positions, please visit MSI Vacancies.