Y-12 Blog

Posted: Thursday, February 22, 2024 - 7:45am

Take 5 minutes to learn about CNS Vice President of Project Management Mike Robinson. He oversees infrastructure modernization work at both Pantex and Y-12. All views and opinions are the employee’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of CNS.

Mike Robinson is in the middle of a climb. It’s a metaphorical climb up a very real mountain of infrastructure modernization work at both Pantex and Y‑12. The work includes the programmatic plans and master site plans at both sites that identify new equipment and infrastructure to be installed and constructed. Robinson, vice president of Project Management, has purview of all the capital projects and many expense projects at both Pantex and Y‑12, excluding the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF). He’s been in his current role for a little over a year now, but as a principal vice president with Bechtel, it’s a continuation of a lifelong career.

“The reality is in 30‑plus years with Bechtel, I’ve moved over a dozen times and covered twice that many different projects or positions; it’s going where the work is needed to address challenges,” Robinson noted.

One challenge that surprised Robinson when he joined CNS was the gravity of the work versus the state of the buildings it’s completed in.

“Our people — not just within Project Management, but across CNS — find ways to be successful in facilities that have overreached their life expectancy,” Robinson said. “In FY 2023, under an increasing workload, CNS not only met but exceeded production goals. Integrated teams across CNS especially demonstrate just how important each person is to overall mission success.”

Project work is increasing to meet both current repair needs as well as to prepare the sites for the future. Buildings like the new fire station and Emergency Operations Center at Y‑12 are clear examples of how new facilities improve not only the work, but also morale. For anyone who works on projects, the on‑the‑job daily problem‑solving has a tangible outcome.

“The passion for the mission extends across the board, throughout the different departments and up and down the ladder, so to speak,” Robinson said.

How has working for CNS changed or reinforced your thoughts on our mission?

Not changed, but reinforced my thoughts on the mission. I appreciated that before, but I’ve gained additional insights into specifics of what projects we are doing to support future mission needs. I also think we’re at a time when the global environment is evolving, and it fully reinforces why our mission is needed or important. We want to play our part by safely and efficiently implementing our infrastructure modernization.

Are you doing what you envisioned as a young adult? If so, describe how you got here.

Absolutely not. I would describe it as a long strange trip. My dad and my uncle were engineers, and my brain seemed wired to build and disassemble things as a kid. I fed that spark by getting a mechanical engineering degree and then headed into the field working construction. I’ve been involved in projects and operating facilities for my entire career. I’ve always gotten satisfaction from completing projects or solving problems, and I have fond memories of the people on the teams we’ve developed along the way.

What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Pantex or Y‑12?

Ask questions. Seek to gain insight from your coworkers about both the work at hand and how it fits into the mission. Getting back to similarities in the sites, it is that general pride in support of the mission that is inspiring. I think that’s unique to these sites because there’s a longer view than just any one project.

Why is it important we hold ourselves accountable in our daily tasks?
We’re all part of some plan; we all have roles and responsibilities to make it work. By holding ourselves accountable, we’re working to support the mission. If you’re not doing what you’re accountable for, you’re letting someone down. As an example, all projects have challenges — there hasn’t been a project in the history of the world that hasn’t had challenges. Good teams identify and attack issues, so being accountable prepares you to address the challenges of that project. It takes the village to complete our projects, and we need to be accountable so we don’t burden each other.

Posted: Friday, February 2, 2024 - 7:44am

Introduce a Girl to Engineering is one of the biggest volunteer events that members of Women in Nuclear participate in annually
Introduce a Girl to Engineering is one of the biggest volunteer events that members of Women in Nuclear participate in annually.

Cassandra H. started work at Pantex nearly two years ago, and enjoys the career she has.

“I like what we do, working in nuclear; there’s no other job like this at all,” she said. “The people you work with are good. It’s the puzzle, working with your hands, and staying busy.”

Her job role is one populated by a majority of men, and while she emphasizes the cohesion found with her peers, she adds, “it’s important to have sisters you can go to.”

The solution was to join one of the affinity groups that she learned about in orientation, Women in Nuclear, often referred to as WIN. This is an organization of women (and men who support women in the field) who work in nuclear energy and technology fields around the United States. The vision of U.S. WIN is to position the United States for the future of nuclear energy and technology through the advancement of women.

“With WIN I get to talk to other women and make friends I probably wouldn’t have met if I weren’t doing this,” Cassandra said. “You get to be social outside of your work area. It’s a place where women can get together and encourage each other. It’s very encouraging to go to the meetings, because I believe knowledge is power, and the more you know the more you can further your career. I’d like to see more women in the nuclear industry.”

An affinity group, also known as an employee resource group, is a group of employees linked by a common purpose or interest. Affinity groups play a vital role in ensuring an inclusive work environment where all are valued, included, and empowered to succeed.

One of the biggest events for WIN is Introduce a Girl to Engineering, which at Pantex is organized and run directly by the affinity group.

“Introduce a Girl to Engineering is an opportunity for women at Pantex to volunteer in the community for a day and be an example of success in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math jobs,” said Pantex WIN Outreach Chair Brandi S.. “This event is a way to demonstrate that STEM is fun, creative, and girls can be great at it. Introduce a Girl to Engineering can be the spark that ignites interest in careers that benefit both the girl and the Pantex Plant in the future.”

Posted: Wednesday, January 31, 2024 - 9:40am

Y-12 Career ONE Manager Kody C. (far right) with the latest class, which boasts 19 recent engineering graduates.
Y‑12 Career ONE Manager Kody C. (far right) with the latest class, which boasts 19 recent engineering graduates.

Consumers may test drive a few cars before they find the right one. At Pantex and Y‑12, Career ONE participants take a similar approach to find the right job.

Debuting in 2011, Career ONE (Opportunities for New Engineers) allows recent college graduates to participate in a job‑rotation program during their first two years at the sites. The newcomers work in different engineering disciplines in 4‑ to 6‑month increments and gain insights into each field so they can better determine which career path is the best fit.

“I found this middle ground between a job and an internship,” said former Y‑12 Career ONE participant Erika R. “It is the perfect program.”

Workshops and training sessions further expand their knowledge and technical skills. In addition, they have access to state‑of‑the‑art equipment and processes. Participants complete up to four rotations, which last a year at Pantex and between a year and 18 months at Y‑12.

“It’s an opportunity to get a broader sense of what’s going on in the company and an opportunity to learn more,” said Pantex Career ONE Manager Steve C. “Helps them hit the ground running.”

Y‑12 Career ONE Manager Kody C. added, “It’s a great program. These engineers are able to gain exposure to our mission and build technical experience. The managers have said how impressed they are with this organization and commented on how enthusiastic Career ONE classes have been.”

Participants, many introduced to Career ONE at job fairs, hail from schools such as the University of Tennessee, Tennessee Tech University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Texas Tech University.

The past two classes are part of a growth spurt for Y‑12 Career ONE. The FY 2021 and 2022 groups boasted 14 and 15 members, respectively. The FY 2023 class had 19. At Pantex, the classes are smaller, with usually eight engineers entering the program each year. The program is in its fifth year there.

“We have plans to grow it,” Steve said. “In the next four to five years, would we would like to see it increase to about 15 people.”

As established groups finish their rotations, new grads come onboard, fostering a mentoring environment.

“Former Career ONE participants are the coaches for the current Career ONE class,” Kody said. “They help them get connected from a networking perspective.”

Although creating those connections is key to success at the sites, the opportunity to work in various areas of engineering is invaluable.

“For this generation that comes out of college, it’s all about choices,” Steve said. “They thrive on that.”

Among this generation is Claire F., who recently completed her final rotation at Y‑12.

“This is my first job out of college,” she said. “Career ONE helped me to see my strengths and weaknesses and to see what parts of engineering I enjoy. I was worried coming into a new job and not liking it, but with this, I got a chance to try a few jobs. I really like my current position in Process Engineering, but I also enjoyed my time in Design. It’s been great to see all of the different sides. It gave me some really good options.”

The options also allow an easier entry into a new and sometimes daunting job world.

“Going in blind (to a single job) would have been intimidating,” said former Y‑12 Career ONE participant Adam .., who was deployed to Process Engineering. “This way, I got a chance to see what I liked and didn’t like.”

Also recently deployed to Y‑12 Process Engineering is Michael H.

“This program has been fantastic,” he said. “It was perfect for my personality type. I’m always thinking, would I be better somewhere else or would I be happier somewhere else? Thankfully, I enjoy this job so much. It’s like a birds‑eye view of what’s going on here, like being backstage, which is perfect, because I’m always craving knowledge.”

For former Pantex Career ONE participant Austin F., “I came in not knowing what exactly I wanted to do. All I knew is that I wanted to be an electrical engineer. CareerOne allowed me the ability to shift around and choose a group that was the best for me.𔄢 He works in the Projects Electrical Design group at Pantex.

There’s a good chance Austin and other Career ONE employees will remain at Pantex and Y‑12 for years to come, which is good news. Both sites have been focused on attrition rates.

“Because of the positive experience they have in the program, they tend to stay at Y‑12 for a while,” Kody said. “We set them up for success with all the access to the site.”

Steve has seen strong retention at Pantex as well, with Career ONE graduates on average working at the site for several years after program completion.

“It takes a few years to get acclimated and to contribute fully,” Adam said. “I could easily see myself being here five‑plus years.”

Austin said, “The chances of me staying at Pantex are high, I would say, as long as I’m putting out quality work. I’m in a good group and I love the people here.”

Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2024 - 12:00pm

Take 5 minutes to learn about Kristen R. of the Emergency Management organization. All views and opinions are the employee’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of CNS.

If there’s one thing that Kristen R. values, it is safeguarding the security of our nation. She spent over two decades carrying out national security missions around the world as a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy.

The missions and values at Y‑12 are not altogether different from the military. “Military is very focused on securing freedoms that we as Americans experience. You are also taught in the military that every person’s role is valuable for the mission,” Kristen said.

Her service in the U.S. Navy equipped her well to join the workforce at Y‑12. “My military experience helps me connect with people. I’m already trained to stay calm, ask questions, and respond appropriately,” she said. These tactics aid her in her job in the Emergency Management organization. They also come into play with her role as secretary in the CNS affinity group Serving our Servicemembers (SOS).

Kristen values the opportunities for connection within SOS for both veterans and employees who do not have military backgrounds. She is responsible for adding in the group’s new members, coordinating monthly meetings and volunteer events, and supporting communication with members (and their families) during deployments. “Employees who are well taken care of are productive and that is what we want to bring to Y‑12.”

How has working for CNS changed or reinforced your thoughts on our mission?

I was in the military for over 20 years. I was fortunate enough to be part of the Department of Defense SkillBridge program, expanding my knowledge of Y‑12 and seeing different areas of Safeguards and Security. I have always believed in doing work for the greater good of our nation and working here at CNS gives me the opportunity to continue doing so. It is vitally important to do our part to complete the bigger picture!

What task lets you know you are helping achieve the CNS mission? How/why does that task let you know you are working toward the mission?

I am the secretary of Serving Our Servicemembers (SOS) and put together our monthly meetings. Y‑12 has a Veteran initiative and utilizes the SkillBridge program as well as word of mouth. Part of what we discuss in our meeting is how we can recruit other veterans and/or spouses. We also let them know there are resources available and no one is alone.

Give an example when teamwork has helped you in your role.

We cannot keep the site safe without working as a team! It is nice to know you can reach out to anyone and either get an answer or be directed to the right answer. Working with the SOS group, we have been able to support different organizations and give folks a space to interact with like‑minded people.

What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Pantex or Y‑12?

Though you might not see how you fit into the big picture right off the bat, just know we cannot supply our military without you. Put your best foot forward every day.

What is your favorite outside‑of‑work activity and why?

Family time is very important. My husband, children, and I love to explore Tennessee and see what it has to offer. Makes the area feel more like home. If we are not outdoors, we are traveling to see family.

Posted: Wednesday, December 13, 2023 - 11:00am

Take 5 minutes to learn about Marcia B., senior manager of Information Security at Y-12. All views and opinions are the employee’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of CNS.

Marcia B. has been working for the federal government or as a contractor since she was 16. “I worked as a student aide at the [Oak Ridge] Federal Building,” she said. From there, she had various Department of Energy assignments in Oak Ridge, including scanning records, transcribing personnel security interviews, and a stint in Waste Management.

After managing a group of support staff in Waste Management, she began working for Safeguards and Security. “My love for safeguards and security started then,” she recalled. “What we call an enterprise assessment now was handled locally then. I enjoyed going out on audits. I remember thinking, ‘Why can’t you implement these requirements?’ Once I came to Y‑12, I realized the requirements are not that easy to implement.”

Marcia said, “The hardest thing about implementation is making sure everyone understands the requirements. You have to make the policy clear and concise and implement consistently and constantly.”

She says the best part of her job is finding a solution to a potentially negative situation. “For example,” she explained, “when our shipments were shut down, brainstorming on storage options and meeting with people for resolution was rewarding. You can see that you’ve made a difference … a positive impact on the site.”

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she said. “I always wanted to do something with the government where I could make a difference in the country and have a positive effect on us as a nation.”

Are you doing what you envisioned as a young adult? If so, describe how you got here.

Yes and no. I grew up around this area, so working at one of the government sites was always on my radar. As a young girl, I had always heard they make good money. Growing up with a single mom who couldn’t afford much, ‘good money’ sounded great. However, when I started college, my goal was to become a corporate lawyer … that’s too long of a story to tell … let’s just say that several years later I ended up receiving a degree in criminal justice, and that was much more interesting.

What is your favorite aspect about your work environment? How does that aspect make you know the mission is being met?

The people. We have some really fascinating people who work here, and I am so thankful every day that I have been blessed to get to know them. It takes all of us to meet the mission just like it takes a village to raise a child. While I have a part to play, it’s all the tiny parts that each of us play that ensure we are able to meet the mission and support the greatest country on earth.

What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Pantex or Y‑12?

Learn all you can and don’t be afraid to ditch what you know and try something new. Our sites are so diverse and there are so many jobs that you can chose to do out here. If you’ve mastered one, don’t be afraid to jump into another one.

What one thing would your coworkers be surprised to know about you?

Those close to me know I have held a clearance since I was 16 years old. The other secret is that I really like to sing, but I am afraid to do so in public.

What is the top lesson you have learned by applying problem‑solving skills to an issue? What advice would you offer a newer employee about the importance of solving problems and asking questions?

In my mind these questions go hand in hand.

As a new employee, we spend a lot of time in class and on the floor learning various aspects about the site and, more importantly, about our job and its role in the site’s mission. All of that information is important to our success, but our ability to ask questions and begin to put our problem‑solving skills to the test is more important. New employees bring both their skills and a fresh set of eyes. What they see and how we operate may not make sense. Ask questions to learn and offer possible solutions. You’ll become more knowledgeable and our site will improve.

I am a problem solver at heart. I love puzzles and riddles, and I also ask questions a lot. I am happiest when I am able to find a solution to a complex problem, whether that’s for the site or my family. The most important lesson I’ve learned about being a good problem solver is that there is almost always more than one way to solve a problem. Working with others, brainstorming, and doing research to understand history go a long way toward ensuring you are able to provide a solution that is logical, cost effective, and agreeable to most, if not all, stakeholders.