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Zaida McCunney Retires After 25 Years at Berkeley Lab

July 8, 2024

By Elizabeth Ball
Contact: cscomms@lbl.gov


During her long career, NERSC Administrative Supervisor Zaida McCunney cherished working with staff and researchers across Berkeley Lab.

When NERSC Administrative Supervisor Zaida McCunney looks back on her career in the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) Computing Sciences (CS) Area, her list of accomplishments is long. She has accumulated vast stores of knowledge, poured herself into important projects, and taken an active hand in improving the culture and systems of the organization.

But what she really cherishes is the people. From summer interns and undergrads to facility directors and Nobel Prize winners, McCunney says the highlight of her career has been getting to know and learn from the full breadth of the Berkeley Lab community.

“My favorite part of my job is helping everyone that I help – from directors and associate lab directors to students, part-time students, everyone. Everyone is so important in their roles, collectively supporting the Lab’s strategic mission,” she said. “Meeting all these individuals has provided valuable insights and perspectives that contribute to my work and my personal and professional growth,” she said. McCunney retired June 30 after 25 years at Berkeley Lab.

A vibrant career

McCunney came to Berkeley Lab in 1998 after working as an executive event planner for a Fortune 1000 company. She initially supported National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) Director Horst Simon, but in the years that followed, she worked with the two subsequent NERSC directors and a range of leadership and staff across the CS Area. She participated in many mission-critical projects and initiatives; in particular, she fondly recalls collaborating with research proposal teams, such as Lab Directed Research and Development (LDRD) and Scientific Development Through Advanced Computing (SciDAC) programs, and procurement teams for the NERSC systems from NERSC-5 to NERSC-10. She also put her event-planning skills to work assisting with the Supercomputing Conference (SC05) when NERSC Division Deputy Bill Kramer served as Conference Chair, and met Bill Gates during the conference, among a host of other highlights and memories.

She has also worked hard to improve the operations of Berkeley Lab and the CS Area to improve efficiency and prepare for new technologies and ways of working. “I am most proud of the high-quality work the team delivers to NERSC,” she said. “I worked hard to establish a culture of continuous improvement where processes are regularly reviewed and optimized. I encourage experimentation and innovation to find better ways of working as a team in support of NERSC’s strategic initiatives,” she said. She cites improving the NERSC administrative website – a 24/7 solution for a 24/7 organization, she says – and moving toward a paperless system of administration as part of her legacy.

Raising up the next generation

Over the years, McCunney has seen many staff come and go and has helped raise up generations of Computing Sciences Area and Berkeley Lab staff through mentoring and training. She says that seeing staff she’s trained go on to successful careers at the Lab and beyond has been one of the most satisfying parts of her career:

“Training and development of my direct reports has been rewarding. I have been fortunate to recruit personnel with varying degrees of skills and experience to support NERSC’s business needs,” she said. “Developing anyone that I've supervised has really been personally rewarding to me because I want every single person that I come into contact with to succeed in their careers.”

According to the beneficiaries of her mentorship, she’s succeeded.

"Zaida has been a great leader and mentor for me. She has always encouraged me to learn new skills and grow in my career, and to always work hard for what I want to achieve in life and don't give up,” said current NERSC admin Seleste Rodriguez, who was trained by McCunney.

“I’m appreciative of her time and commitment to helping NERSC and the administrative team in so many ways. I will always remember Zaida as a happy person with a big smile on her face when she arrived at the office.

She's been a great supervisor and her guidance and support have been invaluable to me."

Access for all

In addition to her administrative work, McCunney has dedicated some of her time at Berkeley Lab advocating for persons with disabilities at the Lab, a passion fueled by her experiences caring and advocating for her son who is disabled. She is a member of the Berkeley Lab All-Access Employee Research Group, which comprises and represents individuals with disabilities and their allies striving to become a leader for disability inclusion in the Department of Energy (DOE) and national lab community, and credits Berkeley Lab Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer Lady Idos’s influence on her own perspectives on diversity and inclusion at the Lab and beyond."

Having leadership that is passionate and energetic about driving positive change is truly inspiring,” she said.

In 2005, as part of her work on SC05, McCunney had the opportunity to participate in the Learning & Physical Challenges Education program, a platform to highlight the potential of high performance computing (HPC) technology in improving the lives of persons with disabilities. “The educators and participants who shared their insights and experiences served as powerful examples of how this technology can make a significant difference in states across the nation,” she said.

In her time at Berkeley Lab, McCunney has seen waves of change in science, technology, and the ways in which business is done – but according to NERSC Director Sudip Dosanjh, who has worked with McCunney since 2012, she has been a bastion of stability who is also able to adjust to and thrive under new circumstances.

“Zaida has been instrumental to the success of NERSC, making it a warm and welcoming place,” said Dosanjh. “She has helped numerous staff members get started and helped host many visitors. She always goes out of her way to make any event she plans successful, including hundreds of meetings, conferences, strategic planning sessions and workshops she has organized – and I have always appreciated her poise under pressure. We often have so many changes due to evolving business needs, and she always takes everything in stride and helps with an extremely positive attitude. We wish her the best for this new phase in her life. She will be missed by all of us at NERSC.”

About Computing Sciences at Berkeley Lab

High performance computing plays a critical role in scientific discovery. Researchers increasingly rely on advances in computer science, mathematics, computational science, data science, and large-scale computing and networking to increase our understanding of ourselves, our planet, and our universe. Berkeley Lab’s Computing Sciences Area researches, develops, and deploys new foundations, tools, and technologies to meet these needs and to advance research across a broad range of scientific disciplines.