A FAR-out experience

Posted: April 19, 2013 - 1:09pm

Y‑12’s current Legal intern, Leigh Outten, is something of a degree collector. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering; two master’s degrees from MIT — one in nuclear engineering, the other in technology and policy; and an MBA from a French school. Now she’s in her third year of UT’s law program. What does one do with such a wide array of degrees?

“My dream is to work at the International Atomic Energy Agency,” Outten said. “I think the laws associated with the handling of nuclear materials are really interesting.”

At Y‑12, Outten has found a setting that puts each of her unique educational experiences to use. She is here this spring thanks to the Y‑12/UT Field Placement Program, a unique collaboration between Y‑12 and the University of Tennessee College of Law.

Y‑12 Lawyer Chuck Young, who’s also an adjunct professor at UT’s law school, says the program offers students experience with things they can’t get elsewhere. A good example is the Federal Acquisition Regulation, a massive book governing the ways federal entities and often their contractors, like B&W Y‑12, conduct their business and procurement operations. It details everything from how to plan for and solicit an acquisition to how the resultant bids are evaluated. In short, the FAR is a “big set of rules to ensure the government treats everyone fairly and at the same time gets the best value for taxpayers,” according to Young.

“I’d been practicing law for 15 years before I came out here, and I’m still learning a lot about this,” said Young, who estimates that fewer than two dozen practicing attorneys in the Knoxville legal community understand the FAR. “So, for a second-year law student to already have that leg up, to be exposed to the things some people never encounter, that’s a huge advantage.”

But FAR exposure isn’t the only thing Y‑12’s legal interns gain while on-site. The Field Placement Program is designed to give students a unique internship opportunity centered on the contractual, commercialization, and compliance activities that take place at a federal site like Y‑12. That includes work on numerous technology transfer initiatives, patent applications, and other site-wide efforts to commercialize Y‑12 innovations.

“My experience gave me valuable insight into the government contractor context and its unique regulatory framework,” said Kourtney Hennard, who completed an internship last summer and intends to become a patent attorney upon graduation. “My exposure to various elements of the patent prosecution process will be invaluable in my future career, and it has already benefited me in my current patent law course.”

For Outten, the internship is an opportunity to work toward her IAEA dream. “I’m doing basic legal things that I’ve never done before. And they’re allowing me to do real things, not just making copies or stuffing envelopes,” Outten said. “This will be really good for me.”

Young says the program’s benefits work both ways. “It’s great for these students to be able to add a line to their resumes saying, ‘I’ve been inside a federal complex and I know how these things work,’” he said. “And we’re also putting more people out into the world who understand Y‑12 and what we do — that will ultimately benefit us.”

Hennard’s comments support that belief. “I am convinced that I will always remember Y‑12 as one of the most unique educational and professional experiences of my life,” she said. “I was indelibly impressed by the richness of Y‑12’s history and its continued contribution to the United States and world.”