Y-12 hosts Engineering Week activities

  • Posted: Wednesday, March 10, 2021, 3:44 pm

Virtual meetings and recordings took the place of hands-on activities

Oak Ridge, Tenn.— Canceling plans, holding virtual meetings, and dealing with change are some common things we’ve all experienced since March 2020. School-age children have also missed out on a lot of normal activities such as field trips and hands-on learning. In normal years, Y-12 National Security Complex employees proudly host groups and visit classrooms to share information about career opportunities. To maintain that important connection with East Tennessee students, Y-12 conducted virtual events for Engineers Week (February 21-27) and Introduce a Girl to Engineering (February 25).

“We knew we would have a lot of virtual learners, and we wanted to offer opportunities for them to hear from our engineers and see some experiments,” said Y-12 Educational Outreach lead Kristin Waldschlager. “It’s not the same as having students attend IGTE or having our engineers visit classrooms, but we wanted to have offerings.”

The solution: Provide teachers with videos of Y-12 engineers sharing what inspired them to become an engineer, why they enjoy their job, and fun experiments. The engineers’ specialties ranged from mechanical to electrical and included members of Women in Nuclear-Oak Ridge and Y-12’s Smoky Mountain Society of Women Engineers.

The recorded videos were available to schools beginning February 22, allowing teachers to use the STEM information at their discretion.

Why provide outreach?

Julie Cramer, president of WIN-Oak Ridge, said, “It’s important that we give back and find ways to inspire the next generations. Experience is the best teacher, and through our experiences, we can teach future generations. We can tell them what it’s been like for us and use that to guide them on their own journeys.”

Engineering offers many career possibilities, and that’s something volunteers want the future workforce to know.

National Nuclear Security Administration Production Office retiree Donna Riggs, who is also a SWE and WIN member, said, “Engineering can be an invisible occupation unlike doctors, lawyers, teachers, and retailers. Many school-age children are unaware of the opportunities that exist for engineers to build and create things to make a better world.”

Y-12 employee and SWE Outreach Chair Maya West said, “It’s important we perform outreach with school-age students because it gives them the opportunity to explore paths different from what they may see at home. It’s also very important to light that spark for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) at an early age. Not to mention, we all will have to retire someday and will need the next generation to continue the legacy at our sites.”

What’s the impact?

Mentors often don’t know what influence STEM activities will have on the students.

SWE president and Y-12 employee Ann Shih said, “I decided to go into chemical engineering when I took shop in 9th grade. It was the mechanical drawing class that drew me to engineering. My high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Chady, made chemistry exciting and challenging. She was an example of a successful woman in STEM when there weren’t many.”

For Y-12 employee Cary Langham, it was watching his sisters become engineers that influenced him. “My two older sisters majored in electrical and mechanical engineering,” Langham said. “They were a huge influence on my decision to pursue an engineering degree. I was intrigued by the manufacturing aspect of engineering.”

Emily Watson, a Y̩-12 process engineer, said, “I initially went into engineering to satisfy medical school prerequisites, not to be an engineer. After spending a few semesters in engineering, I decided I would prefer to be an engineer instead of a doctor.”

Different look, same outcome

While this year’s events looked different, the outcome was the same: Share the excitement and love of engineering with students.

Tom Young of Y-12 said, “Thinking back on my own experience, my parents were certainly a driving force, but it was also the efforts of certain teachers, volunteers, and working professionals who helped foster my interest in STEM. As a teenager who really didn’t know what he wanted to do for a living, having someone suggest a career path like engineering was very eye opening. That had a lasting impact on me (and my career), and I certainly hope that I can help encourage other students through events like the Science Bowl, IGTE, and Engineers Week.”

Y-12 employee DeLys Valentine said, “I was sad we couldn’t interact with students in person, but the most influential topic was still intact, and that was hearing from engineers. Students hearing your testimonial of what you do and how you became an engineer can be enough to steer them towards an engineering (or STEM) career.”

While many were disappointed to not be able to host the event in person, there is one upside to the virtual option, Waldschlager said. “We can only physically host several hundred girls at our normal event, and we reach several more by visiting local classrooms,” she said. “This year we were able to reach more than 2,000 students with the recorded videos and Zoom sessions.”


Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC operates the Pantex Plant, located in Amarillo, Texas, and the Y-12 National Security Complex, located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, under a single contract for the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration. CNS member companies include Bechtel National, Inc.; Leidos, Inc.; ATK Launch Systems, Inc.; and SOC LLC. Pantex and Y-12 are key facilities in the U.S. Nuclear Security Enterprise, and CNS performs its work with a focus on performance excellence and the imperatives of safety, security, zero defects and delivery as promised.

For more information on each site, visit www.pantex.energy.gov or www.y12.doe.gov. Follow Pantex on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. Follow Y-12 on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Kathryn King, APR
Office (865) 315.5996

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