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Ashley Humphrey: Investing in communities

ORNL’s Ashley Humphrey supports initiatives with global partners to strengthen international nuclear security. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

As an International Security and Policy Analyst in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Ashley Humphrey supports bilateral and multilateral initiatives with international partners and agencies and the National Nuclear Security Administration to strengthen International Nuclear Security. Her research and work interests include promoting gender parity in nuclear security (specifically in peer-reviewed academic publishing), insider threat mitigation, transportation security, security culture, and nuclear security technical communications support.

Humphrey received a bachelor’s degree in English for Technical Communications from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She served as an editor for the International Journal of Nuclear Security, and in 2022 was the Lead Associate Editor for the first-ever International Journal of Nuclear Security for Women in Nuclear Security. In 2020, Humphrey received a certification as a Certified Nuclear Security Professional with the World Institute of Nuclear Security Academy, which set her trajectory in the nuclear security sector. She joined ORNL in 2022. Beyond the technical aspects of nuclear security, Humphrey values the relationships that develop from international collaboration and diplomacy and stays intellectually intrigued by the ever-evolving nuclear security industry.

Humphrey’s passion for mentoring and community in her own words

Mentorship is perhaps the most selfless form of charity. It shows human ability to recognize potential in another and devote the most expensive form of currency – one’s own time – into developing their aptitude and grit. True mentorship goes beyond self-reflective professional, educational, or philosophical presentations where you hope to garner questions about yourself at the end. It is working beside others, meeting them on their own terms, and finding what embers are waiting to ignite. The nucleus of mentoring relationships is made of trust and camaraderie. Good mentors have empathy for personal and cultural constraints, traumas, and challenges to better understand how to be a torch that lights the path for others.

On my own journey, I became a single mom in my early twenties, after growing up in a small town with few mentors, completely uninspired, and unaware that the statistic I was becoming was avoidable. It was not until my mid-twenties when my husband, family, and friends supported my fourth trip back to college that I found true mentorship and gained the confidence to succeed in my career. Along the way I developed a passion for mentoring, both through my involvement with the International Journal of Nuclear Security and among my small-town network.

I believe mentorship is the foundation of a strong community, which is often the workforce supporting a company, or, in my case, a national laboratory. At ORNL, our investment in the community, both the location and the people, is one of the most valuable investments we can make toward our science and security missions. The schools in this community as well as those in the surrounding communities are teaching our future scientists, researchers, policy developers, and engineers. They are also teaching the often-overlooked administrators, welders, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, and other vocational, trade, and craft career tracks that keep our laboratories and facilities functioning at state-of-the-art levels.

Next-generation science cannot continue if the next generation is not supported and mentored at every level of education and experience. It is essential to supply security culture curriculum to vocational schools, especially those on a high‑school level (where career planning starts), so mentees are aware of their career possibilities. It is vital that mentors encourage individuals who begin an entry-level administrative assistant position to use their position as a pipeline into the next phase of their career. Girls, women, and nonbinary persons need more than a few job openings and networking socials a year to advance equality in the nuclear security industry. They need mentors who are champions for their voices, those who will make waves in cultural norms and social expectations.

Mentorship is not only limited to young individuals or early career professionals, it can also serve colleagues who elevate each other. Being a mentor to a peer could be as simple as mentioning their name in a room full of opportunity. Being compassionate, empathetic, encouraging, and engaging are all keys of leadership and mentorship that will foster trust and strong work relationships. Being a mentor also provides the opportunity to keep one’s own morale and intentions in-check and to measure integrity and values against the person one was yesterday.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay “Self-Reliance,” “Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession.” As a mother, wife, daughter, friend, coworker, and mentor, my job and my passion is to help others see the value of their gift and the unique power it can bring to their endeavors, with the hope they will turn around and mentor others to do the same.