Linda Valerio is a mechanical engineer at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). She attended Marquette University, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering.
Fermilab has miles of machines called accelerators to study subatomic particles. As a mechanical engineer, Linda Valerio specializes in planning, design, and installation of particle accelerator beam line and vacuum systems. When she started at the lab as a cooperative education student and then as a new graduate, her early roles included designing beam instrumentation devices and supporting accelerator upgrade projects. Her experience prepared her to serve several years as the lead operations engineer for the Main Injector, Recycler, and Pelletron machines while simultaneously developing knowledge about ultra-high vacuum systems. Then she began learning about project management when she was appointed as the installation engineer responsible for two new transfer beam lines and other significant upgrades as part of the NOvA/ANU project. She is currently assigned to the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) project as the principal engineer and manager for the primary beam line vacuum and magnet installation.
1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
I enjoyed high school physics class and decided to pursue engineering after my teacher recommended it and I researched what it was. I did not know even one engineer, so it was definitely not clear what I was getting myself into. I also did not realize until later that women don’t typically do this type of work. I just knew I wanted to improve lives through innovation, and it has turned out to be a great fit for me.
2) What excites you about your work at the Department of Energy?
The variety! When I talk to people about the work that I do, it is difficult to explain because every project is so different. I've worked on beam instrumentation projects that require extraordinary precision and include components smaller than a human hair. In contrast, I've also planned large installations consisting mainly of multi-ton magnets and ultra-high vacuum systems, which reside in the miles of our underground tunnels.
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
STEM outreach programs are a great start. Through Fermilab, I’ve volunteered for several STEM outreach programs, and I see the value of those experiences, especially since I never had that opportunity as a student. STEM careers can be very intimidating, but a little encouragement along with witnessing the enthusiasm of people enjoying those careers seems to really awaken the underlying interest in young students. It’s also important to reassure students that it is supposed to be challenging at times and that overcoming setbacks is a natural part of learning. In particular for females, a culture shift from our workforce may be necessary. It seems to be a common perception that young women will not be allowed to have high-level jobs and still be able to raise a family. If our workforce typically allowed more flexible hours or part-time work in STEM careers (for both men and women), more young women especially may choose to study and remain working in these fields, and the workforce would benefit from the increased diversity.
4) Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Engineering is both challenging and rewarding. If someone has enough interest to pursue this type of work, his or her determination will be the biggest factor for success. I highly recommend doing internships, cooperative education, or other work programs while still in school to get a broader sense of the career that has been chosen.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
I enjoy spending time with my husband and young daughter, bicycling, and photography. I’m also a violinist with the DuPage Symphony Orchestra.