Andrea Viel-Reed, the new senior director of Human Resources at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), comes to the Laboratory with a wealth of human resource experience that includes more than 25 years at a national laboratory and private industry as well as in active military service.
She will start work online at PPPL on May 16 and comes at a time when Human Resources has hired more than 100 new staff over the past year to support the central goal of developing fusion energy as well as its expanded missions into next-generation computing and microelectronics. Kristen Fischer, PPPL’s chief financial officer and head of Business Operations, has served as interim head of HR since Jordan Vannoy, the former head, left the Lab in October.
Steve Cowley, PPPL director, said he is excited to have Viel-Reed become part of the leadership team. “Andrea has the breadth of experience in national laboratories and the strategic vision that make her a perfect fit for PPPL,” Cowley said. “We are thrilled to have her join us. My great thanks to Kristen for serving so capably for the past few months.”
Viel-Reed said she is excited about supporting the Laboratory’s primary mission to develop fusion energy as a clean, green and abundant source of electricity for the next generation. “One of the things that excited me about the position and learning about all the things this Lab is working on is thinking about how I can support that mission,” she added. “I have six children and I’m always thinking about what my legacy is going to be in this time on the Earth.” She added that she is “especially encouraged that we are looking to diversify our portfolio into microelectronics, computational science and other areas and that we are working to grow the Laboratory in the not-so-distant future.”
Head of HR for directorate at Argonne National Laboratory
Viel-Reed was most recently head of the HR organization for Argonne’s Computational Environmental Life Science Directorate and worked in various positions in talent management, organizational development, and diversity, equity and inclusion, including as the Lab’s diversity program officer. “I feel that taking that energy I have at Argonne and applying it to the lab is going to be key, so I’m really excited about that opportunity,” Viel-Reed said.
She was among the first HR professionals at Argonne to be part of a “deployed” human resources model at the laboratory in which she directly supported the Computational Environmental and Life Sciences Directorate that includes the Aurora Computing Facility for exoscale computing. “It’s really understanding the business of the organization, what keeps them up at night and the policies that would shape them,” Viel-Reed said.
Viel-Reed was raised by her grandparents in a small town in Mississippi called “Itta Bena.” Her grandmother, Lou Ella Welton, graduated from a historically black college, raised five children, and taught at a segregated school. Viel-Reed attended an HBCU, Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, where she received a bachelor’s degree in English. She went on to earn a master’s degree in human resources and organizational development at National Louis University in Chicago. She also holds an executive leadership certificate from the UCLA Anderson School of Management and is a graduate of the National Lab’s Strategic Laboratory Leadership Program (SLLP).
Viel-Reed and her husband, Robert Reed live in have five sons: Parker, 8; Kyle, 10; Kobe, 18; Collin, 21, and Jordan, 23; and daughter Clarke, 24.
Prior to joining Argonne, Viel-Reed was director of human resources for E Packaging, a start-up company. She worked for more than 15 years in various human resources positions with increasing responsibilities at Northrop Grumman Corp., including as the equal employment opportunity officer. She was also a human rights investigator with the Illinois Department of Human Rights.
A nearly three-decade military career
Viel-Reed said she has learned a great deal during her career in the U.S. Army Reserve. She served in Operations Desert Shield/Storm in Saudi Arabia in 1991 and was twice deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 and 2011. In her final tour of duty, she was in charge of the draw-down and withdrawal of troops from Iraq as the Joint Operation Area’s Human Resources and Finance branch chief. That was a dangerous and delicate situation in which Viel-Reed met with local Iraqis to discuss how the U.S. could help as troops were withdrawing.
“You’re meeting people where they are and then you’re assessing the situation and making your recommendations that not only will benefit people on the ground but also benefit the forward-looking mission of the military,” Viel-Reed said. She retired from the Reserve a few months ago as a colonel.
The HR Department continues to focus on hiring highly-qualified scientific, engineering and operations staff at a time when PPPL, like many organizations, faces challenges in finding and hiring top staff. That may require new strategies, Viel-Reed said. “I think we’re going to have to be uniquely provocative and different in the way that we’ll bring people together for this mission,” she said. “It’s going to look a lot different than in the past and some of the challenge might be to embrace that.”
Continuing PPPL’s focus on diversity and inclusion and on organizational and workforce development will also be paramount, Viel-Reed said. “My philosophy is to really work with people, bringing human capital best practices to the organization but also realizing that not everything is cookie cutter,” she said. “You have to take the culture into consideration. I am not going to know all the answers but will look to listen, understand and collaborate to reach a best-in-class solution.”
Viel-Reed said she was impressed with PPPL’s leadership team, whom she said were “very down to earth,” and openly discussed the challenges facing the Lab. Their attitude, she said, is “we want someone to come work for us who’s ready for the challenge and is ready to roll up their sleeves.” Viel-Reed said she also met the “small but mighty” PPPL HR staff via Zoom. “They are seasoned professionals who are ready to hit the ground running and want to take HR practices to the next level.”