Y-12 Blog

Posted: Monday, March 4, 2024 - 6:07pm

CNS interns and co-op students are pictured at a 2023 seminar featuring Jahleel Hudson, Director of NNSA’s Office of Technology and Partnerships.

Production Research, Development, and Integration (PRD&I) cultivates student talent pipelines that enhance skills essential for sustaining, stewarding, and modernizing Pantex and Y‑12’s production capabilities.

Essential skills include multiphysics modeling, production process modeling, advanced manufacturing, materials science and development, electrical engineering, nuclear criticality safety, and emergency response.

“Y‑12 relies on its Development organization for a ready cadre of subject matter experts that can be called upon to solve any plant problem. The Critical Skills Program brings in promising replacements to shore up our talent pipeline in not only our traditional areas of expertise, but also in new areas that are emerging such as automation and robotics, modeling, and advanced manufacturing,” said Randy Dziendziel, senior director of Development.

New talent pipelines for CNS include R&D fellowships, co‑op students, and researchers‑in‑residence — a program that allows employees to conduct research at universities for extended periods of time. These initiatives provide a range of opportunities for students to work with Pantex and Y‑12 technical staff on projects that develop expertise important for stewarding the sites’ production capabilities.

An example of multiple programs combining is how one Texas Tech student went from an undergraduate chemical engineering major to developing technical collaboration that creates new capability for the plants.

In 2022, Serée S. completed a Minority Serving Institution Partnerships Program‑funded internship with Pantex Development. In 2023, she came to Y‑12 to intern in Development. She has since been hired as a full‑time Y‑12 employee serving as a Researcher-in-Residence at Texas Tech University (TTU) for Y‑12. She is working on her Ph.D. in computational chemical engineering and expects to graduate in 2026.

Serée dedicates 60% of her time to research and development efforts, focused around solving problems and supporting projects at Y‑12. “I am passionate about bringing chemical engineering process modeling to CNS, Y‑12, Pantex, and the NNSA as a whole because I believe it will be one of the biggest contributors in integrating the advantages of modern technological advances in engineering with our mission,” she said.

Her remaining energy is focused on serving as a liaison between TTU and CNS, a role she is equally as passionate about. This position serves to further enhance the talent and technology/workforce capability transfer pipeline between schools and industry and highlight viable and enticing career paths for students.

Rapid advancements in technology require an increase in the energy and workforce dedicated to those enhancements, making the need for this student and capability pipeline urgent. Without those resources, our current and future production capabilities needed to deliver the mission are inhibited.

To address this need, the Critical Skills program helps universities understand what skills are needed. This allows schools to prepare students who are highly specialized for the work at Pantex and Y‑12. Through the program, CNS has developed relationships with 10 university departments across three universities and has funded 31 students on fellowships.

The Plant Directed Research and Development (PDRD) program builds off these relationships in an effort to recruit and retain people with the necessary skills to meet current and future production mission needs for Pantex and Y‑12.

Accordingly, Y‑12 PDRD Program Area Lead Mike Ellis and Pantex PDRD Program Manager Ed Graef developed a program that provided funding to directly hire 27 positions and build a talent pipeline. “The development of Pantex and Y‑12’s technical bench strength is vitally important to supporting our nation’s nuclear deterrent mission,” said Ellis. “I am proud to enable this effort and grow our technical expertise for current and future mission space.”

Posted: Monday, March 4, 2024 - 3:15pm

Julie Huff, a Y-12 employee for more than 20 years, shares her perspective of working in several production facilities on-site.

Take 5 minutes to learn about Julie Huff, UPF Commissioning director. All views and opinions are the employee’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of CNS.

Employees of Y‑12 may often feel like they’ve taken a ride in the DeLorean time machine as they travel through the site. Older facilities provide a glimpse into the 1940s and the historic deliveries during the Manhattan Project, while construction of projects such as the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) and the Lithium Processing Facility (LPF) thrust the landscape into the future.

Julie Huff, UPF Commissioning director, has had the opportunity to work in a number of production facilities across the site throughout her career at Y‑12. Her experiences in older facilities have proven to be an asset in her current role.

“I’ve worked at Y‑12 for almost 23 years now, and I started my role in UPF Commissioning in June 2022. My primary role is to lead the charge to ensure UPF meets all the requirements to operate as a nuclear facility: preparing the people, the paper, and the processes to successfully pass the Operational Readiness Reviews. Preparing the facility to operate also means planning for transition logistics and preparing current Y‑12 operations and personnel for when UPF is construction complete,” Huff said. “I’ve had the good fortune of being able to see and experience the current facilities and work with a wide number of Y‑12 organizations in my years here, and that has helped me tremendously when thinking through the impacts on our Y‑12 employees now and in the future.”

During her tenure at Y‑12, no matter the facility or organization that she has been a part of, Huff has continued to be impressed and inspired by the dedication and perseverance of fellow Y‑12ers and those at Pantex.
“I believe the environment you’ll find at Y‑12 or Pantex, the level of dedication of the people, cannot be beat compared to other places of work,” Huff said. “You feel and appreciate that every job serves an important purpose to our sites as a whole and makes a difference in delivering the mission. This continues to energize me and motivate me every day.”

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

I am a nuclear engineer, and I have always been passionate about the capabilities of nuclear energy, but I don’t think I fully grasped the magnitude until I came to work at Y‑12. My grandfather and his brothers served in WW2, and it was when I began working here and seeing the work that we do and the history of the Manhattan Project that really made me fully appreciate what Y‑12 has done for this country. The work done here to help end WW2 did not just impact the world in the 1940s, but continues to this day. The world and war forever changed with our capabilities and with deterrence.

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

My top piece of advice would be that before looking outside the company to grow in your career, explore opportunities within your site in a different organization. I like to say that Y‑12 is its own little city that requires different roles, skills, and knowledge. You can have an amazing career here and work your way up this way.

What’s your top bucket list item and why?

My top bucket list item is to visit Antarctica, and maybe even run in the Antarctica Marathon that is held every year. Yes, there is a marathon in Antarctica. My goal is to visit all seven continents, and Antarctica is the hardest one on my list. It just looks so beautiful, and I hope to see it someday.

Who in your life has inspired you the most and why?

My daughter. She always amazes me and challenges me to be a better person. I love seeing the world through her eyes, and I want to make the world a better place for her now and into the future.

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.”