Today at Berkeley Lab

Facilities Director Reva Nickelson Enjoys Challenge of Supporting Science


— By Keri Troutman

When Reva Nickelson moved into her new role as the Director of Facilities last summer, she traded size for complexity. As Deputy Director of Facilities at Idaho National Lab (INL), she had been responsible for overseeing expansive operations at an 890-square-mile campus. Here at Berkeley Lab, she’s facing a much smaller setting, but the hillside location and aging infrastructure pose unique challenges.

“I really like the smaller campus here in Berkeley because I get to see all the people all the time,” says Nickelson. “I feel like it builds a sense of community.”

Nickelson started her 24-year career at INL as a scientist—she holds multiple patents for her work in subsurface barriers and has published numerous scientific papers. “I ended up working my way into facilities, starting with construction projects and eventually becoming deputy division director,” she says. “I love working in this field because nothing is the same—it’s 24/7, fast-paced, stressful, and that’s great for me because I work well under pressure.” She acknowledges that it’s rare to see a woman in her role in a national lab Facilities division, but says she has never felt like being a woman in a male-dominated field has been a barrier.

Nickelson was ready for a change after a long career at INL and the graduation of her youngest of four children. She was drawn to Berkeley Lab mainly by the science and the impact it has on society. “Another reason I chose this job is that I really appreciate diversity and hadn’t had the opportunity to interact with a diverse workforce in Idaho,” Nickelson says. “I’m really enjoying the diversity not only here at work, but also in the surrounding community.”

Nickelson has spent a considerable amount of time in the past year focusing specifically on delivery of capital projects and documenting the current condition of facilities and utilities. An external assessment team from outside Labs helped give her some really good ideas for improvements, re-prioritizing how Facilities manages predictive and preventive maintenance. “My philosophy is that we’re here to enable science, and I want to make sure the systems that support science are there when we need them,” she says.

When she started at the Lab, Nickelson launched a program that she calls “one a week,” where she and her team do walk-throughs to identify maintenance and repair issues. The “one a week” has now become more like “one a day.” They’ve identified more than 1,000 issues and fixed about 44% of them. The rest have been risk-ranked and documented. Nickelson has also been working to ensure that Facilities has service-level agreements with all the Lab buildings so that everyone knows who’s responsible for what. “I feel lucky to have a great team here in Facilities,” she says. “They have an incredible skill-set and are very customer-focused.”
Outside of work, Nickelson is enjoying exploring the Bay Area with her husband, her dog, and the many out-of-town visitors who’ve come to see their new abode. “We keep a list of places we want to go and try to check one off the list every weekend,” she says.