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Barbara Harrison brings experience and human resource skills to new position of equity, diversity and inclusion business partner

Barbara Harrison, PPPL’s new equity, diversity and inclusion business partner, has made an effort to hire a more diverse staff as a talent acquisition specialist at PPPL for the past two years. Now she plans to focus on helping to make the Laboratory’s culture become more diverse and inclusive.

“PPPL needs to be more proactive about diversity and inclusion and anti-racism through recruitment, hiring, and nurturing the talent we have,” said Steve Cowley, PPPL director. “I am delighted to have Barbara bring her experience and insights to this important new role.”

As the diversity and inclusion business partner, Harrison will lead PPPL’s equity, diversity and inclusion strategy. This includes developing and overseeing PPPL’s diversity and inclusion plan to attract and retain a more diverse workforce.  She will be in charge of promoting diversity through learning and development and employee resource groups, and will work with PPPL’s research staff to recruit and maintain more diverse post-doctoral staff as a pipeline to the future workforce.

“Over the last two years we’ve really seen Barbara’s impact on diversity in the recruiting space,” said Jordan Vannoy, executive director of human resources and organizational development. “She leaned in in a very significant way. She reached out to historically Black colleges and universities and partnered with staff at the Lab to attract and hire top talent. She is professional, builds trust with clients, and has a unique background because of who she is as an individual, which makes her extremely empathetic.” 

Harrison has 19 years of experience as a recruiter, 17 of which have been in the human relations field. While she enjoys recruiting staff, Harrison said, she is looking forward to the challenges of her new position.   Harrison is particularly interested in the idea of building a mentorship program for PPPL staff. “I see this role as really being an advisor, a partner” she said.  “I’m looking forward to mentoring young folks coming to our Lab, giving underrepresented people a chance to seek careers in science they probably never would have thought about and really learn what we do.”

Hired 100 people in 2019

Harrison is known for her outgoing personality and work ethic at PPPL, where she has partnered with department heads to hire over 100 people last year and 35 people since PPPL’s on-site operations were curtailed in March. She has partnered with PPPL’s Society of Women in Engineering, and with Black and Latino engineers and physicists on recruiting visits to local colleges, historically Black colleges and universities.  She also has attended conferences of the National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Women Engineers, and other organizations. She has been active in the Advisory Committee for Employees at PPPL and the newly formed Black Alliance Leadership Committee.

“I know who I am, and I know I’m a great mentor and trainer. I can’t change everyone’s hearts and minds but I’m genuine and people seem to trust me,” she said. “I have a strong work ethic from my dad. He used to say, “You get done what you need to be done.”

Before coming to PPPL, Harrison worked as a human resources adviser for Capital Health in Trenton, New Jersey, where she managed the recruitment process for the two-campus hospital system. She was responsible for facilitating and managing the hospital systems’ New Graduate Nursing Residence Program. Harrison also staffed two new hospital departments and was responsible for the onboarding process for Physician Practices.

Harrison spent her first eight years of life in Willingboro, New Jersey, when her father was stationed at the Fort Dix army base. Her parents divorced and her father became a police officer in Saint Louis. After her mother died when Harrison was 8, her father moved her to a mostly white suburb of Saint Louis. Her father molded her values early on. “My dad always told me it’s all about respect, your values and being kind, and if folks don’t like you for whatever reason then that is on them,” Harrison recalled. “If you are true to yourself and you are kind and respectful and you do the right thing, they can’t say anything about you.”

Harrison also dealt with a number of personal tragedies. In addition to her mother, her 20-year-old boyfriend and the father of her then 2-year-old daughter was murdered when Harrison was 21. Her older brother died of AIDS 11 years later.

An advocate for people with disabilities 

Those events along with the challenges of her younger daughter Jade being deaf have made Harrison sympathetic to those facing difficulties and has led her to advocate for people with disabilities. “I do have a lot of empathy,” she said. “I’m very open to talking to people and learning about people. I’ve been through too much in my life to judge other people.”

A few years after her boyfriend’s death, Harrison and her daughter Brittney moved to Ewing, New Jersey, in 1998 to start a new life. Harrison went back to college part time and worked full time while she raised her daughter. She graduated from Mercer County College where she was on the Dean’s list. She went on to graduate Magna Cum Laude from Rider University with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and a concentration in human resources in 2013.

Harrison had been working in the billing department of Princeton Medical Center in Princeton for five years when a friend suggested she apply for a job in human resources.  She went on to work for several companies, including Caliper Corporation and Laureate Pharma in Princeton, Kaplan Higher Education in Philadelphia, and New Level Partners in Princeton before joining Capital Health.

Harrison and her husband Julius, who works in sales and customer service at Verizon, live in Westampton, New Jersey, near Mount Holly with their daughter Jade,17. Harrison’s older daughter, Brittney Wherry, 27, recently moved to Nashville, where she works for a restaurant.

Harrison will continue to work in both her roles until someone is found to replace her as a recruiter. “I love talking to people and building pipelines; and also, the idea of having a hand in our culture shift,” she said. “This is something that I’m excited about as we continue to grow.”

U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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