National Nuclear Security Administration intern studies user experience on laboratory website


Felicie Trebian grew up in a small community with only one grocery store, two gas stations, a few schools and one hospital. While she initially did not have much experience in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), she was fascinated and challenged by the technology that was around her. She also credits her late father as an inspiration, who encouraged her to follow her dreams and who she thinks of whenever she needs to keep going.

“My motivation to continue with technology is the idea of owning a computer security business one day. I want to be able to challenge myself to learn as much as I can to make my business successful,” said Trebian.

As a first-generation college student who went back to school as an adult, Trebian is soon to earn her bachelor’s in information technology from Navajo Technical University. She applied for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration Minority Serving Institutions Internship Program (NNSA-MSIIP), where she became a participant at Sandia National Laboratories under her mentor Michelle Burke.

The NNSA-MSIIP provides paid opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students at Minority Serving Institutions pursuing degrees in critical science, engineering, technology, mathematics and other disciplines that support the current and future missions of the NNSA.

In her research project, Trebian assisted Burke by conducting user experience research for a security application. This included studying and learning the heuristic principles, which are a set of principles used in web design. Trebian applied these heuristic principles to improve one of Sandia’s security websites. In addition, she and her mentor interviewed users, collected survey information, analyzed data, and put it into use by redesigning the webpage and creating mockups for other potential changes. However, she learned more than just user experience research and design. Soft skills, such as organization and a healthy work ethic played a large part in her participation.

Ultimately, Trebian’s goal is to use what she learned with the NNSA and her passion for technology to better her community, as well as pave the way for others who have a passion for STEM, including other non-traditional students. She earned the first-place award for website design at the American Indian Higher Education Consortium student conference, a step towards achieving her goals.

Trebian plans to enter a master’s program for technology upon graduation from Navajo Technical University. She also hopes to continue research through other appointments to further hone her skillsets and inspire others to learn.

“My experience with MSIIP was wonderful, and I look forward to using everything I learned and using it as a foundation towards my long-term goal in my STEM Program,” said Trebian. “As a minority, non-traditional female in STEM, I appreciate every experience and challenge that molds me into who I am now and where I am going.”

The NNSA-MSIIP Program is funded by NNSA and administered through the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by ORAU.