Grad Assistants Make Their Mark

Posted: July 22, 2013 - 3:16pm | Y-12 Report | Volume 10, Issue 1 | 2013

Grad students at Y-12 are a dynamic driving force that directly affects Y‑12’s mission success.

Professionally, it’s the ultimate test drive. Thirty University of Tennessee graduate students, in engineering, law, communications, science and business, have each taken a driver’s seat at Y‑12 and are making notable contributions to core missions.

“The grad assistants program is a terrific two-way street,” said Program Management’s Tom Berg, who oversees the growing program. Y‑12 divisions seeking fresh ideas and extra hands are paired with UT students who work up to 20 hours per week in exchange for on-the-job professional training and tuition waiver.

“We take great interest in ensuring the success of each student,” said Van  Mauney, Y‑12 vice president for Program Management. “As a complement to their formal studies, they’re in a complex work environment gaining professional and technical experience under the tutelage of our superb Y‑12 staff members. A huge plus for Y‑12 is the insight, energy and practical contributions these grad assistants add to our teams.”

Amanda Herrin, a 23-year-old industrial engineering master’s student from Franklin, Tenn., completes her degree in December. In addition to meeting academic requirements, she’s helping align infrastructure-investment decision making. Next year she’ll be developing a capability risk model to predict the impact Y‑12’s aging facilities will have on missions during the construction period of the Uranium Processing Facility. “By correctly prioritizing large maintenance projects, we can ensure the facilities remain safe and capable until no longer needed for our missions,” she said.

Herrin’s contributions have garnered prime-time attention at Y‑12 and have taken her to Washington, D.C., where her team presented its plan to the National Nuclear Security Administration. This same work is the cornerstone of her master’s thesis. Reed Mullins, one of Herrin’s mentors, said, “Amanda’s effectively applying classroom tools to her tasks at Y‑12 and is integrally involved in all phases of projects and decisions.”

Herrin added, “Working at Y‑12 has given me the opportunity to get real-world experience in a unique, complex environment. I have many people to thank for fostering my growth as an engineering professional.”

And taking advantage of research opportunities at Y‑12, nuclear engineering master’s student Cole Lillard worked in Development, helping design a uranium-235 enrichment verification station for low-enrichment uranium alloys. “I grew up locally, always wanted to attend UT and knew that by majoring in a science field, I’d have a good chance of connecting with Y‑12,” said Lillard. “I was able to participate in world-class research, which most other schools aren’t able to offer. My mentoring and experience at Y‑12 were exceptional — exactly the springboard I needed.” Upon graduation Lillard landed a position at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, another production facility within the Nuclear Security Enterprise.

“Y‑12’s grad assistants program has expanded far beyond original expectations,” Berg said. “Six years ago we began with two graduate students supporting technology transfer; this year’s 30 students work in every division across Y‑12. They’re a dynamic driving force that directly affects Y‑12’s mission success.”