Master's program partnership with UT paying off for Y-12 engineers

Posted: August 13, 2015 - 3:40pm

Timing proved to be everything for Chad Watson, a Y-12 employee participating in the two-year industrial engineering master’s program — a partnership with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Watson, a program manager in Enterprise Analysis and Reliability, is among a handful of Y‑12 employees who have found quick success professionally as a result of the Y-12/UT partnership. The program, with its concentration in engineering management, was tailored specifically for Y‑12 employees.

Classes in Oak Ridge on Fridays, a standard day off for Y-12 employees, made the program as worker friendly as possible, lessening the impact on life outside the workplace. CNS also provided tuition assistance to employees in the program.

With colleagues in the convenient Friday classes providing motivation, Watson said it was easier to stay with the program. “A different setting might have been more stressful,” said Watson.

“It was definitely tough at times, but I’m glad I did it,” he added. “I could give up my Fridays for four semesters to have a master’s degree in the end. That was a much easier decision to me than trying to figure out how to do it on my own.”

Watson was in project controls for a year and a half and was a system engineer for four years before he graduated from the program. He became a program manager in Enterprise Analysis and Reliability earlier this year. Watson and Emily Braswell are two of 30 graduates of the program. And, like Watson, Braswell also found quick success.

Braswell graduated from the master’s program in May 2014. After serving as an operations support specialist/industrial engineer, she became a program manager in early 2015 in the Enterprise Risk Management Organization.

“I met colleagues I hadn’t known and got to work with them very closely in collaborative teams, and I expanded my professional network to UT staff and professors and area business leaders,” Braswell said. “I broadened my scope of interest and focus. I realized I have been an industrial engineer all along. Now, I have the official title.”

Braswell said she sometimes felt she was being excluded from positions, and she was interested in learning something new when she signed up for the program. She most valued classes on system thinking and system dynamics. Courses in engineering management, strategic management, business development, leadership and project management are directly related to several initiatives on which her group is currently focusing. In the future, she expects to use her expertise in quantitative risk management, statistics, engineering economics analysis and other analytical methods.

Braswell’s capstone project evaluated the Development organization’s hazard analysis process and created a “risk ranking” tool to measure hazard mitigation. “The degree provided coursework directly related to my new position,” she said. “Risk analysis is a key part of my current position, and project management principles will be emphasized as the group evolves.”

Watson and Braswell join other successful graduates. In August 2103, Eric White was among the first group of Y‑12 employees who graduated from UT’s two year industrial engineering master’s program.

After working in Program Planning and Controls, White became Y‑12’s estimating manager, moving into a managerial role for the first time in his career.

The results of the program “definitely exceeded what I expected,” White said. “My real expectation was to have the degree and have it on the resume and hope for better opportunities. I didn’t think I’d be able to get into management right away.”

The program has had a symbiotic effect on employees and on the mission at Y‑12, helping employees advance in their careers while strengthening the site’s professional ranks.

“At CNS, investment in our people is a key strategic goal moving forward. It helps us ensure mission success at both Y‑12 and Pantex, stimulates career growth for our workforce and, in turn, builds an enduring and energized talent pool,” said CNS Vice President for Mission Engineering Mike Beck. “This program is already paying big dividends for our employees and our sites, and we are exploring similar relationships in Texas.”

In all, 30 employees have graduated from the program.

Jason McCall was among the program’s first group of graduates. Since graduating he became the Nuclear Criticality Safety Lead Engineer for Building 9720‑5, the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility and the Special Nuclear Materials Vehicle. Last year, he also was named the Education Chair of the American Nuclear Society’s Nuclear Criticality Safety Division. In addition to continuing his role as education chair, McCall is now serving as an executive committee member in the NCSD after winning a national election.

“I do not think certain opportunities would have presented themselves in my professional career if it had not been for the UT/Y‑12 partnership master’s program,” McCall said. “I am extremely grateful that I had the chance to go through such a great program. Every day I use the tools learned in the master’s program.”