Utilities technicians are part of the Y-12 Infrastructure labor force, with the majority performing hands on work.
It is safe to say that working 1 million hours without a recordable injury is a big deal, especially when an organization’s work is physical and happens “in the elements.”
Y 12 Infrastructure achieved this during a recent 6 month span. The organization has six departments with 1,200 employees, with more than 60% of them performing hands on work daily. Departments include Waste Management, Utilities Management, Asset Management and Reliability Execution, Facilities and Sustainability, Plant Services, and Mission Systems and Integration. The organization executes 2.2 million work hours annually.
“When you look at all of the hands-on work we do, that’s why this is such a significant accomplishment,” said Y-12 Infrastructure Senior Director Andy Huff. “There are many opportunities to be in harm’s way or in a high risk situation. We work in every production facility and all over the Y-12 site.”
One of the ways Infrastructure has gotten ahead of injuries is to routinely evaluate equipment used to do work around the site.
“We regularly have events during the year when vendors bring in new equipment,” Huff said. “It’s important to make sure our tools and equipment are in good condition. If something isn’t, replace it.” Also part of the safety success story are crew briefings that emphasize looking out for coworkers, the stop or pause work philosophy, and exercising a questioning attitude.
When a college or professional sports team wins a championship, usually there is a celebration with much fanfare to commemorate the feat. Huff chose a different way to mark the milestone.
“I didn’t want to treat it like we have arrived at a destination. Being safe is part of what we have to do. I want to celebrate every day that we helped prevent someone from getting injured.”
Taking a first-of-a-kind facility from design through major construction milestones is something many engineers dream of doing. For Cathy Flavin, Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) CNS deputy project director, it has been her reality. Flavin joined the project 9 years ago, working on the initial planning and design for the multi-facility concept. She had worked a year for another Bechtel project in the United Kingdom before moving to East Tennessee during the CNS contract transition when a project engineering manager was needed for UPF.
As UPF CNS deputy project director, Flavin focuses on the project’s relationships with Y-12 and NNSA, primarily the Y-12 Acquisition and Project Management Office. With each of the area project managers for the Main Process Building, Salvage and Accountability Building, and Process Support Facilities subprojects reporting to her, Flavin manages overall project performance and the escalation of issues. She provides leadership for planning and reporting, as well as guidance for implementing process improvements.
Flavin’s professional journey into engineering began at Michigan State University, when she entered as an undeclared engineering major. She knew she wanted to pursue a career in science and math, and she eventually chose electrical engineering as her focus. After graduating, her first job was working at the Savannah River Site and, from that point on, most of her career has focused on executing projects for the Department of Energy.
At UPF, many of Flavin’s colleagues endearingly refer to her as the “project historian” because of her deep understanding of the technical requirements and aspects of the site. Flavin believes her knowledge of the project and DOE processes is one of the best things she can bring to the table.
“Because I was the engineering manager during the design process, I am pretty familiar with a wide range of processes and builds happening on-site. One of the things I enjoy most about working at UPF is being able to see the renderings and designs on paper actually transformed into this history-making facility,” said Flavin. “Being a part of something like this at Y-12, whose mission is one I deeply believe in, has truly been a highlight of my career.”
What is your favorite aspect about your work environment?
Working as a team to solve problems has always been my favorite part of the job. Watching our team come together and rise to the challenge is a big motivator.
What CNS principle drives you to be successful?
All of them really speak to me daily on the project. If I had to choose, I would say setting high standards and having a questioning attitude. It’s important to challenge the status quo and make sure we do the right thing for the right reasons. Those are pillars of success that have been engrained in me throughout my career; we want to make sure we do our jobs right the first time as engineers. It doesn’t do any good if we build the building or facility but then it can’t be used by the workforce.
As an employee, what do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for being helpful and trustworthy — someone who others can depend on. On a lighter note, I want to be remembered for helping people laugh. On a project before UPF, I was told by a colleague that I could always be found on the site just by listening for my laugh. What we do is serious work, but it’s important we also look on the positive side, and humor can be the best way to maintain positive energy. It’s important to me to be a great person to work for and work with.
What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Y-12 or UPF?
Read the procedures.
Just kidding. Well, still do that. My biggest piece of advice is to find someone you look up to and ask that person to be your mentor, and when you gain experience, mentor other people.
If you could have any super power, what would it be?
Definitely teleportation, because I could pop all over the world without the headache of traveling. I would travel first to see my kids and family all over the country. A lot of people don’t know I have four kids who all have their own careers. I would probably go to Los Alamos first, and then Utah, followed by New York and Delaware.
Y-12’s Alicia Swift has been named to the 2023 University of Tennessee Volunteer 40 under 40 Class.
Swift is director of Nonproliferation and Arms Control at Consolidated Nuclear Security. She joins an elite class of young professionals who have excelled since completing their degrees at UT Knoxville.
Swift received her Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from UTK in 2016.
“I am honored to have been nominated by CNS and then ultimately selected for the award,” Swift said. “I am proud to represent CNS as part of the 2023 class. I think this is indicative of the important work we all do in support of the mission and the nation.”
This latest recognition should not surprise anyone. Her relatively short career is already filled with superlatives. From 2012 to 2013, she served as a nonproliferation graduate fellow within the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Global Threat Reduction.
She is past chair of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Policy Division of the American Nuclear Society and an associate editor of the Journal of Nuclear Materials Management. She currently serves on the board of directors for the American Museum of Science and Energy.
Swift, who grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida, says she owes her love of science to a high school physics teacher, Mr. Murray. Swift said he made physics extremely accessible and fun.
“He was always bringing in exciting topics for us to study, like black holes and astrophysics,” she said.
He also made the class challenging.
“Physics requires thinking outside the box and a different mindset,” Swift said. “I think I also liked the expansive nature of thinking about things in new ways. A big cause of personal growth is choosing things that are difficult and not being afraid to fail or ask for help,” she added.
“Ultimately my love of science stems from the ability to help others and society and to discover new frontiers,” Swift said.
The 2023 class was honored at a ceremony at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, earlier this month. She was excited that her parents and sister were there to share the moment.
They were just children - high school and middle school students - thrust into an often painful and volatile national debate: the integration of our country’s public schools.
On September 6, 1955, only a year after the landmark United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 85 Black students from the Scarboro community walked into two then all-white schools - Oak Ridge High School and Robertsville Junior High School - and bravely broke a barrier as old as the country.
The occasion was met with some hostility, but no violence. The students will tell you they were harassed and called names, but the color barrier had been broken without major incidents. So quiet was the transition, it received little national attention. That would be reserved for later, in other parts of the South.
Many Oak Ridgers have known little about the integration efforts, but that is changing. The Black students who challenged the status quo are now known collectively as the Scarboro 85, and there are efforts underway to tell their stories to a larger audience.
“The Scarboro 85 don’t get the credit they are due,” says John Spratling, vice president of the Scarboro Community Alumni Association and a fifth-grade social studies teacher at Robertsville Middle School.
“In 1955, 85 brave, young Black students were the very first to enter all-White public schools in the Southeast,” he said.
Until recently, little has been mentioned of the events that took place in Oak Ridge in the fall of 1955. Oak Ridge’s story was overshadowed in the coming years by violent confrontations, political power plays, or even bombings in other communities, where change drew headlines.
Spratling points out that the Scarboro 85 integrated the Oak Ridge School system 5 years before 6-year-old Ruby Bridges became the lone Black student to integrate William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Oak Ridge’s integration happened 2 years before the Little Rock 9 were initially turned away from an all-white school by national guardsmen and faced a cursing, hate-filled mob. Oak Ridge’s desegregation even came a year before 12 students faced anger and threats of violence while entering a previously all-white school in nearby Clinton, where a firebombing took place two years later.
Spratling also says the pioneering Oak Ridge effort happened months before Ms. Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. rose to national prominence in the Montgomery bus boycott.
“Yet with all these major civil rights milestones, nowhere is the Scarboro 85 mentioned. This cannot be. They must get their rightful place in civil rights history,” Spratling said.
Spratling and others in Scarboro, a historically Black community in Oak Ridge, are making their voices heard over what they feel is an injustice not only to the Scarboro 85 but also to civil rights history. Spratling believes those Black students were “true American heroes” and he is determined to get their story out.
Spratling is a member of a group of Oak Ridgers who have begun raising funds for a permanent monument tol honor the Scarboro 85 in Bissell Park. It is a major effort, but if successful will provide a permanent record of the accomplishments of a group of young Black children who, in Spratling’s view, changed the world.
“Because of them, I am who I am. Without their sacrifices, I would not be where I am today,” he says.
A fundraising luncheon will be held on February 23 at the Doubletree Hotel in Oak Ridge, with civil rights leader Reverend Dr. Harold Middlebrook speaking. Consolidated Nuclear Security has supported many Scarboro events over the years and is proud to participate as a sponsor of this important event.
Five years after visiting Y-12 for Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, University of Tennessee student Sarah Godfrey presented her project “Consolidation of Powders Through the Use of Additive Manufacturing” during the 2022 Intern Expo.
Y-12’s educational outreach efforts are focused on making students aware of possible careers, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This February, Y-12 will host the tenth year of Introduce a Girl to Engineering (IGTE).
Ideally, some of those girls attending IGTE will eventually seek employment at Y-12. That ideal became reality with Sarah Godfrey, who completed an internship during 2022 at Y-12 in the Development organization. This current senior in materials science at the University of Tennessee Knoxville credits IGTE with shaping her career path.
“I attended IGTE in February of 2017 during my sophomore year at Anderson County High School. I was so excited to see the booths of so many organizations promoting women in STEM,” said Godfrey.
Recalling her sophomore year, Godfrey said, “I had some decisions to make that would ultimately impact what I did after graduation.” With no other classmates considering engineering, she said, “It didn’t feel like a career in engineering was in reach until I attended that event.”
Initially, Godfrey considered chemical engineering because she loved chemistry. However, she was exposed to materials science while attending the Governor’s School in 2019, and her academic career was set.
From left, Jalonda Thompson, University of Tennessee Tickle College of Engineering, with Sarah and Karah Godfrey at Introduce a Girl to Engineering in 2017. Y-12 National Security Complex hosts the annual event with the goal of introducing more young women to careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
From the classroom to research and development
Godfrey admitted that she had never really known what went on at Y-12, and she was impressed with the levels of collaboration and innovation in Development. “Even as an intern, my ideas and hypotheses were taken seriously,” Godfrey said. She explained that someone was always available to teach and train her.
Noting that most any STEM major can learn new skills to work on any project, Godfrey said, “I found this knowledge compelling. At Y-12, there is always room to learn new things.”
While Godfrey finishes her senior year at UTK, she is also starting coursework for her master’s degree in material science and engineering. She plans to graduate in the spring of 2024 and is open to employment with Y-12 or a similar industry.
Godfrey hopes to continue studying additive manufacturing. “The expansion of additive manufacturing to include metals, ceramics, polymers, and composites creates many opportunities to continue research for other applications,” she said.
For other young women who want to follow in her footsteps, Godfrey has advice. “Although it may seem daunting, there are other women who are doing it,” she said. “There will always be a community to support you. You should do it!”