Spotlight: JoAnn (Joni) Garcia

May 2022 Edition

JoAnn Garcia

JoAnn (Joni) Garcia, Physical Therapy Assistant
Joni Garcia had only flown on an airplane one other time when she flew from south Texas to begin college at the University of Chicago in September 2001. Within two years, deeply moved by the events of September 11, Garcia left her undergraduate studies to enlist in the U.S. Air Force.

“I went in ready to do whatever was asked,” said Garcia, a Physical Therapy Assistant (PTA) in Argonne’s Health and Employee Wellness center.

After taking an aptitude test, the Air Force identified jobs in which it thought Garcia could excel and serve. She chose Physical Medicine Technician. Garcia learned the equivalent of a two-year associate’s degree in four-months, and then headed to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. There, she provided physical therapy support to members of all branches of the armed services

Garcia rose to the rank of Technical Sargent (TSgt) and she still serves today with a deployable hospital unit near Saint Louis. She is also an invited speaker who encourages enlisted service members to obtain their civilian Physical Therapy Assistant license while they are still in the military. For many who enlist and keep re-enlisting, checking a civilian licensure box may seem superfluous. However, Garcia says the license is required (and acts as a significant threshold for higher salaries) once a person leaves the armed services and tries to find work.

“No one can take your education away from you,” she said. As a person of humble economic beginnings, she empathizes with those who shoulder student loans. Garcia cites student debt as the number one challenge she faced in developing a professional career. Today, she is earning her Master’s of Business Administration degree through a military-funded scholarship program.

At Argonne since 2013, Garcia employs her extensive training in orthopedics and ergonomics to help laboratory employees recover from musculoskeletal injuries or surgeries.

“When employees come to us, they need our help to get better,” she said. “If someone is thinking about a shoulder injury they developed over the weekend instead of their science, we are losing valuable minutes and hours they could be spending on their work. The sooner I can help people get better, the sooner they can get back to whatever they do at the Lab.”

Garcia credits two people in her life for shaping her professional identity. First, she cites her mother Ysabel, “a beautiful soul,” who worked for many years as a dedicated teacher’s assistant for children with significant disabilities. Second, she recalls a TSgt in the Air Force who modeled a whole-heartedly personal approach to patient care.

“People used to give him a hard time because he’d stay late to write notes after patient visits,” she remembered. “He didn’t want to spend time taking notes while he was with them. You can be the top student in your class, but patients need to know you care about their personal health and wellness. I’m 100% invested in my patients and getting them back to their best as quickly as possible.”

2022 SCSW Founders Award Recipient

Amanda Joyce Selected as the 2022 SCSW Founders Award Recipient

Amanda Joyce
Group Leader, Strategic Cybersecurity Analysis & Research
SSS Division 


Please join Argonne’s Women in Science & Technology (WIST) program in congratulating Amanda Joyce on being selected as the recipient of the 2022 Science Careers in Search of Women (SCSW) Founders Award! Established in 2007, this award honors individuals who have demonstrated a lifetime commitment to mentoring women and to advancing women leadership and career opportunities in the sciences and engineering, because “the future depends on what we do in the present” (Gandhi).

Amanda has been a part of the Argonne community for over 10 years, and throughout her time, she has continuously demonstrated her commitment to the advancement of women in science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM fields) . She has been a member of the WIST community for many years and for the past three years, Amanda has served as Co-Chair for Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (IGED); an event focused on inspiring 8th grade girls to consider a future in STEAM. Her outreach for this event included hundreds of girls across the U.S., especially with the latest versions taking place virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Amanda’s positive energy is contagious, and her mentorship and leadership skills are invaluable in motivating girls and young women to pursue and persevere in STEAM careers. Through her extraordinary effort, Amanda models Argonne’s Core Values (Impact, Safety, Respect, Integrity, & Teamwork) and advances the mission of the WIST Program. Amanda, thank you for being an approachable role model to the future women leaders in STEAM.

Spotlight: Janell Piechocinski

May 2022 Edition

Janell PiechocinskiJanell Piechocinski, Construction & University R&D Procurement (FMP-PRO)

Growing up, Janelle Piechocinski watched her father transform simple pieces of wood into exquisite cabinetry and other products. That workshop-level understanding of woodworking and the business side of construction served her well when she began working in Argonne’s Procurement group in 2004.

“At first, I was an administrative assistant but my early exposure to the construction industry provided a unique foundation of understanding that I expanded upon,” said Piechocinski, who built upon a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration with a Master of Business Administration degree in 2008.

Today, Piechocinski is Argonne’s Construction and University Research and Development Procurement Manager. She facilitates acquisitions of services and materials that attract brilliant individuals from universities around the world to advance cutting-edge research endeavors at Argonne. She also helps the laboratory renovate or construct the facilities in which this research will occur.

“It is so satisfying to see the results of the construction contracts that I author,” said Piechocinski. “That’s truly paramount to me. At the end of the day, I know that those I interact with can rely on me to help them achieve their goals, which in turn helps me achieve mine.”

An innate motivation to help and to contribute to the happiness and success of others has proved most powerful when Piechocinski pairs it with an unwavering commitment to answering the “why” behind large problems or questions.

“I have come to learn that the first glimpse of a problem/situation is sometimes only a small fragment of the larger issue,” said Piechocinski. “It’s important to take time to understand “why” so that the level of rework is less.”

“Anything that is ‘worth it’ takes time to build,” she added.

A hobby florist who also enjoys landscape design, Piechocinski continuously seeks ways to improve her work-life balance and takes time to be mindful of each stage of life.

“It’s as important to know your own strengths as it is to recognize your weaknesses,” she said. “I know that what I want to achieve is pivotal to feeling successful in both.”



Spotlight: Cara Hotz

May 2022 Edition

Cara HotzCara Hotz, Head of Creative Design, Communications and Public Affairs

It is no small feat to translate cutting-edge scientific and technology concepts into visual communications that make an immediate, lasting impact. Add tight project deadlines, audiences who range from Jane Q. Public to preeminent experts to government leaders and you might wonder who’d be brave enough to take on such a role.

Cara Hotz, Argonne’s Head of Creative Design in Communications and Public Affairs, is not only brave enough; she’s having a blast while doing it.

“My grandfather once smiled at me and said, ‘life isn’t worth living if you’re not having fun,’ and his optimism resonated with me,” said Hotz, who moved to Chicago from North Carolina. “Fusing fun into my professional life helps me make connections with others in ways that aren’t tied to the day-to-day pressures of deadlines and deliverables.”

Hotz has been a lead steward of Argonne’s brand since 2017. She steers a team of creative designers and works with various teams to produce environmental, print, digital, and video graphics to accelerate the science and technology that drive U.S. prosperity and security.

Not bad for someone who wasn’t sure how to initially describe her desired career.

“Even though my father is a landscape architect, and my mother is an accomplished educator, I didn’t have a vocabulary for talking about design,” said Hotz with a laugh. “I felt supremely awkward in high school talking about pursuing ‘color and shape’ as a career. Luckily, my father recognized my interest from his ‘design thinking’ point of view, and he helped me find my path.”

Hotz went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Design with a concentration in Graphic Design.

“My design theory education influenced my working philosophy of design—that it’s a strategic, pragmatic, and comprehensive endeavor that can have real impact,” she said.

Before joining Argonne, Hotz spent 20 years working in creative roles for agencies, in-house environments, and managing her own firm, Studio Pragmatik’. She now shares her creative energy and enthusiasm with colleagues at Argonne.

“Helping people share their ideas and discoveries in ways that resonate with who they want to connect with is extremely fulfilling,” said Hotz. “Supporting the Lab’s efforts with strong, effective visual communications is a thrill—and every day is a new challenge to figure out. It’s great!”



Spotlight: Phyllis Hayes

May 2022 Edition

Phyllis HayesPhyllis Hayes, HR Manager

Phyllis Hayes’ mother knew that her daughter had an especially gentle heart.

“I have always been concerned about fairness, fought for the underdog, that kind of thing,” Hayes remembered with a chuckle. “I wanted to be like my mom, and I aspired to be a social worker.”

However, the field of social work had changed since her mother worked in it, and both of Hayes’s parents encouraged their daughter, the third of four, to enter a more business-centric field. After earning her bachelor’s degree in sociology and urban studies, Hayes entered a business management training program at a major bank in Chicago. She was on her way to becoming a commercial lender when the head of Human Resources singled her out for an opportunity in her department. It became Hayes’s lifelong profession. She joined Argonne as a human resources manager in 2018.

“What I like about the lab is that it’s a mission-driven organization that helps solve some of the major problems in the world,” said Hayes. “I have a high level of interaction with a broad array of people and I enjoy the opportunity to work with people strategically and tactically to solve problems.”

According to Hayes, a firm commitment to core values is as important in Human Resources as it is in STEM careers.

“We are all called upon to serve competing priorities and making the right call may be challenging,” said Hayes. “Integrity and honesty are at the core of who I am, and I believe these values will always steer us as individuals and as part of our organization in the right direction. They are fundamental components of character.”

Additionally, Hayes believes in the value of taking on challenging projects, acknowledging that mistakes might get made, asking questions, and seeking constructive criticism that results in growth. Although she did not personally benefit from a consistent mentor, she believes women and people of color should try to identify mentors who can help them overcome the inevitable road blocks that arise in environments where they historically are not significantly represented.

Hayes is not always solving problems, though. During the pandemic, she discovered the calming escapism of floatation tanks. She enjoys an occasional relaxing float in saltwater followed by a nice cup of tea. “The pandemic taught us all that self-care is critical,” she said. “It’s our responsibility to draw the boundaries and prioritize our physical and mental health.”