Around the Table is a three-question interview series from the Make Room email newsletter. Each edition features a conversation with a peer in the national security community to learn about their expertise and experience in the sector.
Tosha Bell is a general engineer at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the position of the NNSA.
How have you navigated being a woman in spaces that are often dominated by men?
I am often one of only a couple of females and almost always the only Black person in the room. I have been intentional about finding allies, both women and men, in the workplace. These are people who have been willing to speak up on my behalf, whether in my defense or to ensure I’m afforded the same opportunities as my male counterparts. I also have found women who I can lean on and can relate to my experience as a minority in the workplace. I work hard and let my work ethic, competence, and contributions to the organization show that I belong in these spaces.
Which part of your work at NNSA motivates you the most?
The mission. During my first seven years at NNSA, I worked in the Office of Defense Programs and was able to support the mission of maintaining a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear stockpile. I now support NNSA’s Office of Counterterrorism and Counterproliferation whose mission is preventing, countering, and responding to a terrorist or other adversary with a nuclear or radiological device. These important NNSA missions for enhancing national security motivate me to come to work each day.
Why did you decide to get into nuclear engineering?
Growing up I enjoyed math and science and knew I wanted to be an engineer but wasn’t sure what kind of engineering I wanted to do. My plan was to get my undergraduate degree in physics and then go to graduate school for engineering with the hope that during my undergrad time I’d figure out what kind of engineering I wanted to pursue. The summer after my junior year at Wittenberg University I was accepted into a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program through Wright State University, and they partnered with the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) on Wright Patterson Air Force Base. I was excited for the opportunity, but honestly was a little bummed when I found out I’d be one of a handful of the participants who would be working at AFIT instead of Wright State. Little did I know that this initial disappointment was the best thing that could have happened for me and would be the foundation for my career. My research advisor at AFIT was Dr. James Petrosky who was a professor in their nuclear engineering department. I didn’t know anything about nuclear engineering when I started the REU program but was eager to learn, and thankfully Dr. Petrosky was willing to teach me. It was this summer REU program at AFIT where I realized that I wanted to go into nuclear engineering.
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