Department of Energy's Dot Harris honored for blazing path for women

LaDorris "Dot" Harris, director of the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity at the Department of Energy, was recently honored at the EmpowHer Institute's Girls to Greatness Luncheon, "Dream Big, Reach Higher,"  in Beverly Hills, California.

The mission of theEmpowHer Institute is to empower girls and womento seek fulfilling and productive lives by helping them gain the skills necessary through education, training and entrepreneurship.

Harris was one of four recipients of the 2014 EmpowHer PathMaker Award, whichrecognize women who exemplify the characteristics of a PathMaker, one who blazes a path for others to follow and encourages and inspires along the way.

The additional 2014 recipients of the PathMaker Award include Musette Buckley, senior vice president for Warner Bros. Pictures, Renata Simril, senior vice president of external affairs for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Denita Willoughby, regional vice president at Southern California Gas Company.

Harris was chosen as an honoree specifically because of her "incredible passion and commitment to bringing more awareness and engagement for women and girls in the area of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)."

Tony Baylis, director of the Office of Strategic Diversity Programs, was named in 2013 as a Department of Energy (DOE) champion of the Minorities in Energy Initiative. Baylis has been collaborating with Harris, seeking opportunities to engage the diverse workforce at LLNL and promote STEM education and careers. Baylis was unable to attend the luncheon; however, he made sure that the Laboratory was adequately represented by recruiting post-doctoral researchers and diversity ambassadors Jessica Osuna and Suzanne Singer to attend.

Singer, a postdoc supporting engineering and energy security with projects in energy efficiency and renewable energy , also is a leader of the American Indian Activity Group at LLNL and volunteers her time to promote STEM careers and education. Singer was impressed by the event and enjoyed listening to the girls' experiences and the wisdom of the awardees and mentors. "This program was much more than I could have imagined," Singer said. "I have no doubt the EmpowHer Institute will continue to flourish. "

Osuna, a postdoc in the Atmospheric, Earth, and Energy Division at LLNL, was honored to be a part of the day and was equally impressed by the honorees and the students in attendance.  "Through discussions, it was obvious that EmpowHer is having a positive impact on the lives of young women and the community," Osuna said.

Osuna and Singer received a special invitation to participate in round table discussions with the young women and honorees prior to the event. The discussions provided an open environment in which the students discussed with mentors the obstacles present in daily life, challenges in the home and school environment and discouraging attitudes toward females interested in STEM.

"The round table discussions gave us insight to what the program offers," Singer said. "The girls participated in activities geared to instill self-respect, leadership and life skills to help them prepare for college." 

Honoree Denita Willoughby,regional vice president at Southern California Gas Company,advised the young women to stay focused on their goals and to keep in mind what they want. "You may veer off the path sometimes, and goals can change, but don't let the daily life dramas deter you," she said.

EmpowHer works with an average of 300 underprivileged girls and young women annually to create opportunities that can improve their overall socioeconomic status. Their goal is to reduce the high school dropout rate for low-income middle and high school girls who are at risk of educational failure due to various circumstances. Their strategy is to provide sisterhood, relevant training, choice in decision-making and to demonstrate resiliency as a means to overcome poverty and to help young women meaningfully serve their communities.

For more information about the EmpowHer Institute, visit the Web.

Learn more about the PathMaker Award.