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Dianne Bull Ezell: Learning at every opportunity

Dianne Bull Ezell enjoys the variety of projects offered in a national laboratory setting.

September 13, 2016 – Dianne Bull Ezell has always been a problem solver. As a child she built a bridge of Lego pieces for fun. Nowadays the Electrical & Electronics Systems Research Division engineer has grown from configuring toys to piecing together engineering solutions, and she’s still having fun along the way.

“I always thought it was neat to see and think about how things work – taking things apart, trying to put them back together and having leftover screws,” Ezell says. “What’s nice about what I do, being an electrical engineer, is I can apply that to anything I love.”

As an R&D engineer in the Electro-Mechanical Systems group, Ezell studies system integration though microelectronics and signal processing. She works on an array of projects spanning the Lab like nuclear instrumentation for reactors and nuclear imaging.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with hybrid electric vehicles, power electronics, device development and testing. I’ve done experiments at the High Flux Isotope Reactor, at the Spallation Neutron Source, just a wide range of things,” Ezell says. “That’s what’s so great about working at a lab: You can come in every day and find something different.”

A self-described “unique case” — she was an older college student on an untraditional career path, not to mention a woman engineer — Ezell earned her bachelor and master degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee in 2007 and 2009, respectively.

Feeling a bit lost on the next steps, she then decided to accept a position at ORNL instead of full-time school for her doctorate. “ORNL offered a lot of opportunities to continue your education,” Ezell explains. “While working on that post-master’s I learned a lot of real world skills and a lot of things they don’t teach in the classroom.”

She just defended her doctoral thesis and is expecting to receive her doctorate from the University of Tennessee in electrical engineering later this year. “I was able to diversify my education,” she says. “If I had gone straight through to a Ph.D., I may not have realized or gotten to do all that I can here at ORNL.”

A long-time advocate for learning at every opportunity, Ezell makes it a point to help young scientists and engineers who face similar obstacles she faced when embarking in her engineering path as a mentor at ORNL.

Her passion and outreach has garnered recognition from the engineering field. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) selected Ezell as an honorable mention for the 2016 IEEE Women in Engineering Inspiring Student Member of the Year Award. She was honored by the professional society for “extensive and continuing service to IEEE and the next generation of female engineers, for multi-dimensional mentoring of students and encouragement of young ladies to pursue technical careers.”

Ezell spends as much time as possible mentoring, she explained, because she wants to see the next generation of students stay in science, technology, engineering and mathematics—and ultimate change it for the better.

“We are constantly redefining science,” she says. “I always try to invest in seeing the next engineers that come on, what they’re going to invent and all the ingenuity they’re going to bring with them.”

ORNL is managed by UT-Battelle for the Department of Energy's Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. DOE’s Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov. – by Ashanti B. Washington