The value of new perspectives

Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - 09:00

By Mike Dunne, director of LCLS and executive sponsor of CORE

Photo of Mike Dunne

SLAC, at its essence, is about innovation. We develop transformative new approaches to understanding the natural world – whether we’re creating theoretical models, coming up with new experimental methods, or dreaming up grand endeavors like LCLS-II. We are always challenging ourselves to think about the world in entirely new ways.

In order to find new ways of doing things, we need a broad range of perspectives; people with different experiences, mindsets and approaches to life. People who can look at what’s been done in the past and ask: Is there a better way?

SLAC programs like the Committee for Outreach, Recruiting and Engagement of Ethnic Minorities (CORE) play an essential role in bringing diverse perspectives to the lab. CORE actively engages in community outreach and education to provide opportunities to underrepresented groups. One of the programs that CORE supports is the Al Ashley internship, which has seen 80% of interns in the program becoming full-time SLAC employees since 2014. CORE also raises awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion at the lab, and drives many fun and engaging experiences such as the multicultural food festival and hosting the Greene Scholars Program.

Earlier this year I joined CORE as its executive sponsor. At first, my prime focus was to increase our engagement with external communities to nurture our pipeline of new talent. What happened during the summer, however, has shifted my perspective.

At LCLS, we host 40 to 50 summer interns every year, and try hard to attract people from many different backgrounds. This program doesn’t just offer an inspiring and motivating experience for the students – it’s a wonderful opportunity for SLAC mentors to experience something new, too.

photo from food festival

Thirty-six different dishes from around the world were served at the 2018 Multicultural Food Festival at SLAC. (Dawn Harmer/SLAC)

When you have someone to mentor, whether it’s an intern or a staff member, you have the opportunity to look at the world through their eyes. And the more they differ from you – in their experiences and the way they think – the more your own perspective can shift and grow.

This year, the internship program was given a remarkable boost. Devon Conradson, an LCLS summer intern from Lewis & Clark College in Oregon, and Meriame Berboucha, an exchange master’s student from Imperial College in London, organized a series of symposia on diversity, inclusion and youth engagement at SLAC. The events featured guest speakers, including YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, and covered a range of thought-provoking subjects like the difference between equality and equity.

The feedback from many of the staff who attended these events was striking. People really engaged. The discussions had changed the way they thought about this topic, and given a real boost to their personal motivation to get involved. Talking about these issues and making them visible drove a lot of internal conversation – and it took a handful of people with strong commitment and passion to spark that fire.

Reflecting on this experience, I began to see the important role CORE can play for people already at SLAC.

This resonated particularly strongly as a result of my own personal experiences. Earlier in my career, I worked in a couple of organizations that had very closed environments, with little diversity among the staff.

The thing is, it’s hard to see the problem when you’re deeply entrenched in it. There were no conversations going on at the time to raise awareness about diversity. It was only later that, having stepped outside of those environments, I was able to observe how constraining they had been.

We know that minority groups working in many STEM fields struggle with feelings of exclusion. Gender and ethnic diversity in STEM is a known problem – including here at SLAC.

This is why it’s so important that we talk about these issues. I believe employee resource groups like CORE have the power to inspire and bring about real change: to increase diversity at SLAC and to create advocates among existing staff. I strongly encourage you to get involved. Be active and make your voice heard!

And given that our job at SLAC is to transform the way we see and think of the world, taking bold steps toward greater diversity will open up endless possibilities for our future.


The CORE employee resource group (ERG) meets every month, with the next meeting taking place on Thursday, Dec. 13, from 12-1 p.m. in the Mammoth Conference Room (Building 53). Look out for other ERG meetings on SLAC Today’s calendar or here on the ERG website.