Y-12 has been an active, ardent supporter of South Carolina State University’s nuclear engineering program since its early days. Now a national success story, Y-12 is paving the way to expand the thriving partnership, redouble the program’s graduation rate and hire more top-notch grads — all in the effort to protect our nation.
Fourteen years ago when SCSU rolled out its nuclear engineering program with 6 students, it was the first new nuclear program launched in the United States in more than 30 years and the first ever at a historically black college or university. Today, it is the only undergraduate nuclear engineering program in the state of South Carolina.
In 2004, Y-12 entered into a mentor-protégé agreement with the university to back the fledgling nuclear program. The expectation was that the two-way street would eventually bring grads with critical skills to Oak Ridge’s nuclear security complex and to other companies within the defense industry. “It’s the perfect example of how we can work creatively with universities to meet the individual needs of both organizations,” said Tom Berg, Y-12’s Technology Development and Transfer manager.
In early 2005, Y-12 dispatched Dr. Ken Lewis-a loaned employee, accomplished nuclear engineer, award-winning researcher and visionary with a passion for nuclear science and education-to Orangeburg, South Carolina. His task: move the SCSU nuclear program to a viable department. A little over three years later, the nuclear program received ABET-EAC accreditation. “Y-12 provided ’troopers’ who supported our program mightily. Because of their visible and vocal support, our program recently was re-accredited through 2020,” said Lewis, who retired from Y-12 in 2008 and became the dean of SCSU’s College of Sciences, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology. Over the years, Lewis obtained millions of dollars in state, federal and National Nuclear Security Administration grants to purchase equipment and hire faculty to build the program that is now rock solid and flourishing.
Industrial Advisory Council, including Y-12’s Chris Robinson (second from left) and Edwena Crow.
“Under our partnership, SCSU students have had internships and job offers at Y-12. Because of our success with the nuclear engineering program, the university was recently granted permission by the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education to offer a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering,” said Y-12’s Chris Robinson, Senior Technical Advisor and liaison to SCSU. “Having a hand in such educational growth certainly is fulfilling. I visit SCSU twice per year as the Y-12 liaison and as a member of their Industrial Advisory Council and am always impressed by the significant investment the nuclear engineering professors make in their students’ lives. They believe in hands-on teaching and coaching and are central to every success story.”
“Now is the perfect opportunity to build on Y-12’s investment. Today, the program has approximately 50 students and produces 7 graduates per year,” said Ben Stephens of Y-12’s Technology Development and Transfer group. “The mentor-protégé agreement ended recently, and we’d like to establish a memorandum of understanding agreement that will offer a smooth transition for selected SCSU grads in nuclear engineering, radiochemistry and industrial engineering to join Y-12, filling critical-skills jobs.” To recruit top-notch students, the partnership likely will offer incentives such as scholarships for full or partial tuition, employment offers and a clear path to a master’s program at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
Edwena Crowe — a Y-12 employee, SCSU grad and chair of the school’s IAC — is a champion of the school. She works to place students and, as the IAC chair, diligently watches over the school’s program and its partnership with Y-12. “We want to guarantee that the students are well prepared and employable. The IAC looks specifically for opportunities to marry SCSU with government entities and corporate partners nationwide to further enhance programs in the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines,” she said.
As one of SCSU’s strongest supporters, Y-12 is working to expand the vital partnership that’s filling the pipeline with exceptional talent and the next generation that will help protect America.