All community colleges are expected to educate and train students to prepare them for a future career, but Roane State Community College goes a step further. At its Harriman campus, Roane State established the Raider Pantry, a facility that provides supplies for students dealing with the issue of food insecurity.
“It’s difficult to be your best in class if you’re worrying about feeding your family or yourself,” said Karen Brunner, RSCC’s vice president of institutional effectiveness and a co founder of the food pantry project. “Since September 2019 when we opened the pantry, hundreds of students, their children, and other family members have been served.”
With the pandemic creating a national emergency, the need for food increased as many families struggled with their finances. Through the Neighbor to Neighbor Fund, a $2,500 grant from CNS was matched with a $2,500 grant from East Tennessee Foundation, which provided much needed support for RSCC’s COVID-19 crisis response.
With many students learning from home amid the pandemic, RSCC hosted “Food Pantry On the Go” events that attracted students and their families who might not otherwise have been able to take advantage of the service.
“We had one student who drove in for the event and she had her kids with her,” said Dr. Lisa Steffensen, RSCC’s dean of students and a food pantry organizer. “We helped her pick out some items and made sure the kids got to help pick cereal and a dessert item to take with them. As they were leaving, one of the kids yelled from the back seat, ‘Thank you for helping us.’ It just really hit home how much these meals mean to our students and their families.”
The east side of the Uranium Processing Facility's Main Process Building
The Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the Y-12 National Security Complex successfully completed all third-level walls and concrete roof placements for the Main Process Building (MPB) on Wednesday, September 29, marking a major milestone for the UPF Project. This signifies the completion of structural construction for the MPB.
Construction work on the MPB began in 2018, and the interior construction and commissioning will be completed by the end of 2025. The MPB is one of seven UPF subprojects and the largest single building on the project. The 242,000-square-foot structure was built to nuclear construction standards, once completed and fully operational, will house casting, special oxide, and some chemical recovery processes.
The MPB subproject includes the construction and installation of the building as well as site preparation, long-lead procurements, the installation of the Perimeter Instruction Detection Assessment System (PIDAS), and a connector to the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF).
“This milestone marks a major shift for our construction team on the UPF project,” said Dale Christenson, UPF Federal Project Director. “UPF construction team demonstrated the teamwork and tenacity necessary to complete the MPB structure working through the challenges that East Tennessee weather brings, and allows a majority of the work to be performed indoors.”
Construction will continue on the interior of the building as crews install key process modules, gloveboxes, and additional process equipment throughout the next few years. The remaining interior construction also includes additional work for subcontractors on heating and ventilation ductwork, fire protection piping, and interior finishes.
“Completing the structure for the MPB is a major achievement for the project as we continue to build our nation’s UPF,” said Dena Volovar, UPF Project Director. “We are moving the project forward, and we recognize it is vital to get the job done right. We have the right team to deliver UPF, and this achievement shows the great work that is being done each and every day.”
UPF supports the nation’s Uranium Mission Strategy, which ensures the long-term viability, safety, and security of enriched uranium capabilities in the United States. UPF will replace casting, special oxide production, and salvage and accountability capabilities from a World War II-era building with a modern and more efficient facility for conducting highly enriched uranium processing operations at Y-12 National Security Complex.
Dena Volovar, UPF Project Director speaks to craft personnel at the Main Process Building Civil Structure Completion Ceremony
From Left to Right: Mike Robinson, Bechtel UPF Project Manager; Dale Christenson, UPF Federal Project Director; Dena Volovar, UPF Project Director; John Howanitz, President of Bechtel NS&E GBU; Gene Sievers, Y-12 Site Manager; and Jim Sowers, MPB Area Manager
Three generations of the Irwin women have served in the Secret City. From left: Tessa Irwin, Tessa and Eva, and Velva Rhodes Irwin.
Editor’s note: This article describes the experience of three generations of women working at Y-12, spanning from 1944 to today. It was written by Tessa Irwin of Y-12 Communications, who is also depicted in the last entry. She based it on interviews with her mother and grandmother, as well as her own impressions.
August 1944, Velva Rhodes
Velva Rhodes Irwin was 16 years old. At 5 a.m. on a muggy August day, she wore a pale pink dress and her hair was in loose curls as she stood among other young women outside a grocery store in Gibbs, Tennessee. An old army bus rolled up and the women began to file on to start their 45-minute commute to Oak Ridge, which would later be known as the Secret City.
“Secret it was,” Velva, now 93, said.
The bus ride was quiet, too early for conversation. Once they arrived, Velva walked briskly to the only building she was required, or allowed, to be in: the Administration Building. She would work there as an audit clerk from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and earn $1,450 a year.
“My job duties as a clerk consisted of many things,” she said. “I verified payroll additions and extensions, as well as verifying schedules and examining invoices to ensure they were all correct.”
Although Velva excelled at her job, she never knew what type of business the company conducted.
“I had no idea what we were working on,” Velva said. “I thought I was working with people doing construction around the area, but I was alarmed as armed soldiers were everywhere. I knew something more had to be going on, but I didn’t ask questions.”
Day after day for more than a year, Velva repeated the same 14-hour routine. She woke up before dawn, put on a dress, hopped on the army bus, and worked 12-hour days.
Until one day things took an earth-shaking, historic turn.
“It was August 6, 1945,” she recalled. “It was like any other day. I arrived to work and began to look at the paperwork for the day and then … it happened. There was a loud alarm that signaled our attention, followed by an announcement that the United States had dropped its first atomic bomb, known as Little Boy, on Hiroshima, Japan. They also announced for the first time that each of us played a role in it, even as an auditor. Everyone was sent home early that day and to us, that meant, the war was finally over.”
As some of the secrets came to light from inside the Secret City, Velva finally knew what her true mission was and that she worked for something which had much greater impact than simply “construction.”
She worked for the Army Corps of Engineers and was part of a historic and war ending endeavor, the Manhattan Project.
More than seven decades later, she can still wear the pale pink dress she wore while she waited for the old army bus to round the corner.
September 1989, Eva Irwin
Madonna was playing on the radio as 24-year-old, Eva Irwin, with big earrings and even bigger blonde hair, drove to her first day of work as a secretary at the K-25 site in the Secret City.
Like Velva 45 years before, Eva felt hesitant and intimidated as she made her commute. She didn’t ride an old army bus with other women, but arriving alone was in some ways scarier.
“I was nervous and didn’t know where I was going,” Eva said. “I tried to drive through the gate and encountered a security police officer who told me I couldn’t enter, so I turned around and went back home,” she laughed as she relived the moment. “The next day I had worked up enough courage to find the right gate and now, I have been passing through the gates and have driven past that blue line for over 30 years.”
America had changed in the decades since Velva’s tenure, and Eva enjoyed more work equality and opportunity. Like Velva, she began her career as a secretary, but through decades of hard work and dedication, she excelled and advanced. She now serves as the U.S.-U.K. program director.
“Things have really changed over time, especially for women in the workplace in the last 30 years,” she said. “Women have greater access to education and it has become a commonplace for them to graduate with degrees in engineering and scientific programs historically obtained by men. There is more equitable pay and more job opportunities for women.”
As she reflects on the impacts of women and their accomplishments throughout the decades, she thinks about how the mission at Y-12 is what ultimately keeps everyone moving forward in unity.
“The mission has always been to support the nuclear program,” she said.
“With the end of the Cold War, Y-12’s mission focus changed from weapons production to weapons reduction and disassembly, as well as, performing stockpile surveillance and maintenance,” she said. “Over the past 20 years, the focus expanded to more environmental protection and modernization through demolishing many of the WWII era facilities.”
Irwin believes the importance of Pantex and Y-12’s mission imparts an enhanced sense of patriotism in those who work at the sites.
Eva is still a Y-12 employee, and while her hair might not be quite as big, her goals, work ethic, and patriotism still are.
July 2021, Tessa Irwin
I’m wearing a mask as I sit on the back porch of my grandparents’ house. I have a sweet tea in one hand and pen and paper in the other. I’m sitting six feet from my grandmother, Velva Rhodes Irwin, and my mother, Eva Irwin, as they share their work experiences.
Hearing my mother and grandmother discuss the evolution of women in the workforce over the past seven decades is eye opening and compelling for me, a 25 year old Second Lieutenant in the United States Army and newly hired subcontractor at CNS. I am proud to be the third generation in my family who is contributing to the national security mission in Oak Ridge. One thing that has not changed is the critical national security role that Pantexans and Y-12ers play in order to support our core mission to ensure a safe, secure, and reliable U.S. nuclear deterrent.
Our stories reveal more than the experiences of generations before me; they also describe how far we have come as a country.
This LiveWise mural brands the renovated fitness centers and makes the centers easily recognizable.
Some rejuvenating reps have the East and West LIFE Centers at Y-12 looking pretty buff.
The 11-year old structures have received makeovers. They now boast fresh paint, power washed and replaced trim, and new eye catching murals. Inside the West site, bathrooms sport new flooring, and ceiling tiles have been replaced.
“We’re excited to present the updated facilities,” said Consolidated Nuclear Security’s Health and Wellness Supervisor Karen Lacey. “They are a real value to employees. This helps set the tone for the importance we place on wellness and the health of our people, the most important resource.”
The centers have two different color schemes. East is cream with gray trim, while West is also cream but with red accents. They provide a backdrop for two of Lacey’s favorite additions, the LiveWise murals.
“Now it’s branded,” she said. “The logo makes them easily recognizable, easily distinguishable. People now know that it is part of the LiveWise Program.”
The renovations have been in the making for some time.
“It’s been 3 years trying to put this together,” Lacey said. “It started coming together in the spring, when we were able to get funding.”
The East and West centers are smaller offshoots of the larger fitness facility at Jack Case Center. They feature cardio and strength equipment, and change houses are next door. Like the JCC location, both are open 24 hours, 7 days a week. The centers have more than 4,000 usages each month.
In addition to the fitness equipment, there are LiveWise classes, such as outdoor boot camp sessions and virtual yoga. New to the roster is functional fitness training, which offers workouts in a small group setting. It focuses on exercises that train muscles to work together and prepares them for daily tasks by simulating common movements done at home, work, or in sports.
“I think this will attract some new people to the center,” Lacey said. “It’s a little less intimidating than taking a class with a lot of people.”
LiveWise also offers discounted (or free) registration to sports events, mobile mammography, and other health education programming.
“We’re as good as any gym in the community,” Lacey said, “and it’s always free. We’ve just saved employees 30 bucks a month.”
Members of the crew that made the upgrades possible gather at the East LIFE Center
Thanks to the CNS General Workplace Improvement Program, the Pantex and Y-12 sites have received several upgrades.
Investments have been made to revitalize aging infrastructure at both sites. The CNS General Workplace Improvement Program, which annually identifies, prioritizes, and executes projects in common areas to better quality of life for employees, has been working on several upgrades.
At Pantex, improvements underway range from new digs for guards to a fix that’s sure to be a bright spot.
The installation of a new guardhouse is set to be completed in September at the Building 16-19 portal entry.
“The existing one is somewhat small and cramped,” said Program Manager Todd Clark. “The new one is probably double the space. This will be a bigger building to more comfortably house personnel and equipment.”
Clark is also overseeing installation of windbreaks at the east and west entry portals. The aluminum alloy booths are heated and will offer protection from extreme wind and cold weather conditions at the posts. They will be used by guards when weather conditions warrant and morning portal activity is high, Clark said. Construction has already started at the west gate. Projected completion is September 30.
Solar lights have been placed at crosswalks and provide a brighter path for Pantexans traveling from an overflow parking lot.
Another project makes the Building 12-70 parking lot brighter and safer. Solar lights have been installed by construction and maintenance crews at two crosswalks, which workers use to travel from an unlit overflow parking lot.
“Employees must cross the road at two points to access the plant,” Clark said. “The crossing is a potential safety hazard in low lighting conditions. The lights will create safer conditions and better visibility for employees.” Construction was completed in July.
While these projects focus on outdoor changes, other improvements at Pantex tackle interiors.
In one building, four restrooms are slated to be remodeled by September. The renovations include new floors, toilets, urinals, partitions, sinks, exhaust fans, fresh paint, and improved heating and cooling capabilities.
Program Manager Dustin Broom said, “Personnel will have adequate restrooms and a conducive work environment that improves quality of life.”
Also, office area modifications are in the works at another building. Among the changes are new flooring, paint, ceiling tiles and roof, electrical configuration, and a conference room system for improved meeting and videoconferencing capabilities.
“This refurbishment will improve employee habitability and provide adequate office space for personnel,” Broom said.
Y-12 has made an effort to create a better environment for employees as well.
“Workplace improvements are essential to the current and future of the Y-12 site,” said Program Manager Chad Kitts. “The Maintenance and Repair Program strives to complete General Workplace Improvement projects each year to improve quality of life for the Y-12 workforce.”
At Building 9212, outdated flooring in the office and cubicle areas has been replaced with overlay flooring; a base has been installed, which will facilitate easier cleaning and more sanitary conditions. “The effort updated the facility’s habitability to today’s standard,” Kitts said. Also, the walls in the mezzanine men’s restroom in Building 9204-02 received a paint job.
A crane replacement will deliver safer work conditions at Building 9215. The machine includes a hoist with a wireless remote control. This improvement removes workers from exposure to the molten salt bath. The planning phase is completed, and the execution phase is in progress. This project is slated to be finished by February 2022.
A roof access staircase at Y-12’s Building 9720-05 makes maintenance and surveillance safer for workers.
Steps in the right direction have been taken at Building 9720-05. A roof-access staircase was installed June 2020. It allows safe access to the roof and enables workers to efficiently complete surveillance and maintenance activities.
“The staircase provides maintenance personnel and other employees with safer and easier access to rooftop equipment,” said Program Manager Beverly Ward. “We have also eliminated the cost associated with erecting and removing temporary access and fall protection.”
Other projects are in various stages of planning and funding, so more workplace improvements will be implemented at Pantex and Y-12 in the months ahead.