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NERS alum share their NRC award stories

NERS and the NRC have a common goal of educating the next generation of nuclear engineers.

Global electricity demand is set to grow by close to 5% in 2021 and 4% in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). This unprecedented demand for electricity will need to be met with a variety of reliable, sustainable energy sources—including nuclear. And in order to provide nuclear energy, America needs a workforce capable of designing, constructing, operating, and regulating a new generation of nuclear facilities.

That’s why the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) created the Nuclear Education Program to support and encourage nuclear education and nuclear-related careers. The program gives opportunities to qualified individuals through funding for scholarships and fellowships. Students in the U-M Department of Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences have been given several awards through the program. Since the program’s inception in [need year], [need number] scholarships have been awarded to our undergraduate students, and [need number] fellowships to our graduate students.  

Kaitlyn Barr

Kaitlyn Barr was given a scholarship in the fall of 2020 during her undergraduate studies, which she completed in the spring of 2021. She will return to NERS this fall to begin her Master’s studies. Kaitlyn is part of the U-M Sequential Undergraduate/Graduate Studies (SUGS) program, which offers our best students an opportunity to complete their Master’s requirements as part of a seamless five-year program. 

With her scholarship, Barr was able to free up funds that allowed her to live in Maryland this summer and do an in-person internship with X-energy, a company that is developing advanced reactor technology.

“This experience gave me the ability to apply skills learned in the classroom and extend my knowledge of reactor physics, which I will use in my career to support the development and deployment of advanced reactors once I graduate,” said Barr.

JT Iacovetta

JT Iacovetta was awarded a scholarship in 2019 during his undergraduate studies at NERS, which he completed in 2020. He is now a second-year JD candidate at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He also works for a law firm in the Mountain West that specializes in energy and infrastructure transactions. Their clients include several corporations with nuclear portfolios. This past summer, Iacovetta spent eight weeks with Duke Energy’s nuclear legal counsel focusing on matters related to the upkeep of their power plants. He plans to use his law degree to support nuclear-related causes.

“Future nuclear technologies, particularly modular reactors, will require significant legal attention,” said Iacovetta. “If these reactors are to have community applications, there are several unexplored legal areas, including land use or lease contracts, power purchase or procurement agreements, and the navigation of varying regulatory regimes. Hopefully, as these technologies continue to grow, we can find a way to ensure that energy companies and larger utilities navigate the legal framework cleanly and efficiently.”

Michael Jarrett

Michael Jarrett was awarded a scholarship in 2012 and a fellowship in 2018. He received his BE from NERS in 2013 and finished his graduate studies in 2018.

“This fellowship allowed me to finish my PhD work on a schedule dictated by the work itself, which was slightly out of sync with the academic calendar and a typical PhD timeline,” said Jarrett. “I was able to focus 100% on my thesis over the final few months of grad school, rather than working 50% on a GSI/GSRA position for funding, which allowed me to address more of the open questions and improve the overall quality of the work.”

After graduating, Jarrett immediately began working at Argonne National Laboratory on the core design team for the Versatile Test Reactor project. He has since moved to TerraPower and is now working on the Natrium reactor for the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program.

Daniel Walter

Daniel Walter received a fellowship in 2011. He received his MSE and PhD from NERS in 2012 and 2016, respectively. 

“​​The NRC Fellowship allowed me to focus on my coursework and research at U-M,” said Walter. “I was able to flexibly engage multiple professors and research projects to find the right fit. Eventually, I settled into reactor modeling and simulation within the DOE CASL program. A solid M&S background allowed me to get a computational physicist position at TerraPower within the MCFR Program. Fast forward four years and I’m leading the design of the Molten Chloride Reactor Experiment (MCRE), a DOE ARDP-funded reactor experiment that will be built at Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

“I’m thankful I was afforded the opportunity and time to explore my interest within the nuclear field,” said Walter. It allowed me to find my way to eventually leading an advanced nuclear reactor design team.”

“This fellowship is an excellent opportunity for graduate students,” said Walter. “Flexibility in study and research is key and I hope future students continue to have the same support I was given.”

Braden Saltus

Braden Saltus was given a scholarship in the fall of 2019 during his undergraduate studies, which he completed in the spring of 2021. He will return to NERS this fall to begin his Master’s studies as part of the SUGS program.  

“I interned with the NRC this summer, prompted by the fact that I have been a beneficiary of this scholarship for two years now,” said Saltus. “This internship cemented my interest in pursuing a career in nuclear. Through interacting with the people of the NRC and completing site visits, I have become sure that I wish to pursue a career as an inspector.”

“The NRC Fellowship and Scholarship Programs are extremely valuable to our department, helping us to recruit the best students and motivate them to become leaders in the nuclear energy field,” said NERS Chair Todd Allen.

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