Lauren-Jiavanna Morita started out as a business major at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, but her path took an unexpected turn early on when her friend Kathleen Shoga (now an LLNL computer scientist) introduced her to a coding project she was working on. Morita was intrigued, and later, as part of a business-related computer course, decided to build her own website. “The class gave me an opportunity to work with HTML and CSS more closely,” she says. “I never considered working with computers before, but I enjoyed this project so much that after learning more about the discipline, I decided to switch majors my junior year.”

While still at the university, Morita took the opportunity to participate in a summer internship within LLNL’s Livermore Computing division. “I appreciated that everyone was treated equally regardless of education or gender,” Morita shares. “Everyone I met at the Laboratory was knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly. The experience made me want to continue working here.”

From Intern to Employee

After graduating with a master’s degree in Engineering Sciences (with an emphasis in computer science) and a double major in Chinese, she reached out to a Livermore colleague she’d met during her internship. Morita says, “I applied for a position in the Radioactive Hazardous Waste Management (RHWM) group, which was looking for a software developer to help design and build the new LWASTE tracking system.” The group is part of Computing’s Applications, Simulations, and Quality division.

When it comes to RHWM, the entire waste process, from generation to disposal, and all the steps in between, must be tracked and documented to ensure regulatory requirements are met and the waste is managed properly. LWASTE makes it easier for users to track and document the necessary steps and ensure hazardous waste accountability. “My focus is on front- and back-end development, written requirements and testing, requirements gathering with users, and some database management, so I have had my hand in almost all parts of the LWASTE project,” says Morita.

Developing LWASTE has been an iterative process. “We basically started from scratch. When we introduced the application to users, their feedback indicated that they wanted something different. We began introducing modules one at a time, soliciting feedback, making fixes, then starting the process over again,” says Morita. LWASTE has a large user base, and the application needs to be customizable to specific roles. She adds, “The biggest challenge is ensuring that the application accomplishes everything it is supposed to and meets all the users’ needs.”

A Better User Experience

When Morita started at the Laboratory back in 2017, the LWASTE project was not focused on UI/UX (user interface and user experience) design principles, but since that time there has been a growing interest in making it a priority. UI/UX fundamentals focus on the overall design (from the visual elements to the user’s feelings regarding the interaction) and integrating both parts to ultimately improve the site’s effectiveness. Morita says, “I took the initiative to take courses at UC (University of California) Berkeley, with the full support of my leadership, to learn more about UI/UX design.”

In 2019, Morita helped bring on Bianca Toledo, a Computing UX designer, to the project and together they worked to enhance the LWASTE application. “From a UI/UX standpoint, I play a more consultative role that allows me to interact with users more, and we are getting positive, rewarding feedback on our work.” The application is currently undergoing testing, and Morita and the development team are planning on releasing a large update to the users this year as they continue towards completion of the project. “Working at the Lab has helped me expand my skill set. I’ve learned that computer science isn’t just coding but can be applied to different areas of interest within the discipline. I appreciate that leadership is supportive of new ideas and being innovative. They allow us to try on different hats while maintaining roots in computer science.”

Coming Full Circle

When Morita was an intern at the Laboratory, she had the opportunity to get involved with the Asian Pacific American Council (APAC)—an LLNL networking group that provides leadership for the growth, development, and full participation of Asian Pacific Americans in support of LLNL’s missions. Now as a full-time employee, she gives back to the group that provided her so much support in the beginning. She recently served as the APAC secretary and helped redesign the group’s logo. She says, “Working on the logo and t-shirt committee was an artistic outlet for me. We focused on redesigning the APAC logo to make it inclusive of everyone, and a lot of thought was placed on how to make that happen.”

This past summer, she also served as the APAC co-chair for the summer student internship committee. “We helped summer students feel welcome at the Lab through special in-person and online events. We offered virtual networking opportunities where they could listen to colleagues discuss their own journeys from intern to full-time employee. Helping students understand what opportunities are available and getting them interested in continuing their work here is really rewarding.”

—Caryn Meissner