LOS ALAMOS – Dorian Newton is a big-picture guy, a systems engineer who comes up with a vision and then figures out how to make it happen.
But talk to him about the individuals in his nuclear waste-related work programs, and he gets all choked up.
It was while watching the first class graduate from a waste processing operator boot camp recently that “we realized (that) we had the opportunity to make not just one change,” Newton says. “We’re impacting families, we’re impacting the region, we’re impacting generations.”
Newton, who has done military and civilian service in the Naval Nuclear Power Program, is engineering director of Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos. A DOE contractor, the company is charged with cleaning up decades-old waste sites at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Newton last month was given a top award for corporate promotion of education by US Black Engineer and Information Technology magazine. The award recognized Newton’s role in starting a two-year nuclear operators apprenticeship program in conjunction with Northern New Mexico College that was registered with the state several months ago. It also honored the boot camps he started last year for waste operators and radiological technicians.
All program participants are paid and are offered full-time jobs when they complete their training. Students also earn course hours and a certificate.
The idea is to give participants support and mentorship, along with the paycheck, and to create a more diverse pipeline for jobs that will have a high demand for workers, Newton says.
“We look at diversity from the aspect of race, ethnicity, gender and background – and what students can bring to the cohort to make it most successful,” Newton said in a news release about the programs.
It was, he says, the Navy that provided him with the structure he needed to succeed, and he’s committed to providing the same thing to others.
“The Navy fed me, the Navy put a uniform on me, the Navy gave me lodging,” Newton says. “All the things that would have made it hard for me. The structure I needed, they provided. We’re trying to provide some of that structure to help overcome barriers.”
What do you think makes you successful?
“To answer that, I’ll tell a story. It was after I qualified as a ship test engineer. That was an inter-disciplinary type role where I was in charge of a lot of things that went on in a reactor plant. And in that role, we were doing a startup on a carrier. It was actually the carrier that I had served on. I was very comfortable and thought I knew everything. There was kind of a twist that I hadn’t anticipated, and (we) ultimately ended up with a problem. We talked about that problem afterward, and then I realized … there were members of the team who (said) I had created an environment that made them uncomfortable to share their input. And I took that on board, and I incorporated that and so the things that help me be successful is I spend a lot of emphasis on recognizing the resources that are there and bringing those resources together. You want everybody to bring their best to the table.”
What was your childhood like?
“My father and my mother were both in the Navy. When my father got out of the Navy, he got a job with Bell Helicopter. At that time, Bell Helicopter was in Iran, so we went. I did my kindergarten and half of first grade in Iran. Apparently, I could count in Farsi. I can’t do that now.”
Where did you grow up?
“I was 6 years old when my mother and my father separated. She was tired of being in Iran, and she went home to Houston. She went her way with the intention they’d come back together, and it just didn’t happen. So I grew up in Houston. I would visit my father in Michigan during the summers.”
What was your first job?
“Pop’s Pizza. I was a short-order cook. I actually made sandwiches. I was as young as you could be and work.”
What’s your favorite food?
“I like a good steak, but seafood. I like Cajun, Creole. I like oysters, I like shrimp, I like crawfish. We were six hours from New Orleans (in Houston). There was a huge store called Fiesta. It would be like a Latin-American type of Walmart. What I mean by that is you could get a lot of things that you wouldn’t get in normal supermarkets. You could get a 26-pound bag of crawfish. Put that in the tub, and you put salt and water in there so they can clean themselves out. There’s a huge pot in the back yard. We’d boil them in there with crab boil and then pour them out on the picnic table. It’s very unique to the Gulf region.”
Who inspires you?
“To be quite honest with you, characters in the Bible. The characters of Joseph, David. Typically, the thing that inspires me – you see an individual who is provided a vision initially, and then you see the progress of their life. There’s no clear pathway to get to that initial vision, but ultimately when you see the fruition of it, you understand they had to go through things and counter things that they didn’t necessarily understand. That type of story inspires me. I can see that in Frederick Douglass, I can see that in Martin Luther King.”
What was the happiest time in your life?
“I should probably say my wedding day. So I’ll say that. We’ve done some really great trips. We went to Niagara Falls for my 40th birthday, and that was pretty cool. I liked Duff’s Famous Wings.”
Do you have any pet peeves?
“Yes, from being in the Navy on a nuclear reactor or just on a ship. Somebody is responsible 24/7 for various attributes that have to be in operation. That’s called a watch. When a person came to relieve you late from a watch or was not prepared to relieve you, they call that “bagging you.” That’s a pet peeve. In a broader sense, the concept goes to somebody who either comes too late to relieve you or turns something over to you that’s not fully completed. They’re not doing their portion of it, so you end up taking on more, more time or more effort.”
Describe yourself in three words.
“A good steward.”
with Dorian Newton
with Dorian Newton