At K-State, it's cool to major in nuclear engineering again
By Tim Lindemuth, K-State Alumni Association
A long-range plan to allocate new funding for nuclear engineering at Kansas State University enabled the department to try again at attracting top faculty, reequip the labs and classrooms, and communicate the professional opportunities to potential students.
"We found that we weren't doing enough to tell our story, so we've put a lot of effort into communicating to students that the nuclear industry needs graduates," said Mo Hosni, head of the department of mechanical and nuclear engineering. He said starting salaries for new graduates are as high as $50,000 to $60,000.
Industry leaders say they need 550 newly trained nuclear engineers annually, but U.S. schools are graduating approximately 350 each year. K-State's nuclear engineering students, which number more than 60, are in high demand.
These jobs go beyond the typical nuclear power plant operations to include biomedical fields and research activities using radio isotopes.
Several K-State students now train to be nuclear reactor operators and obtain their federal licenses from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission before they graduate, Shultis said. They also work side by side with faculty and technicians on teams doing graduate research.
"Once they are licensed, we put them to work at the reactor," he said. "The hands-on experience makes graduates ready for the industry."
One of those students, Clell Solomon, master's degree student from Wichita, Kan., recalled his three-hour written test and the walk-through in the reactor control room with an NRC examiner.
"You show that you know everything about the reactor and the control console. What it does, how to control and monitor it," he said.
Solomon credits this experience for helping him obtain a summer internship at the Sandia National Laboratories in summer 2004 and for the offer to intern at the Los Alamos National Laboratory last summer.
Comparing his freshman and senior years at K-State, Solomon sees a marked increase in the number of students in his classes and increased student worker activity around the reactor.
"It's wonderful that people are taking more interest in nuclear engineering," he said.
Image: The nuclear engineering faculty, the reactor staff and student assistants pose atop the reactor's work area in Ward Hall. The reactor core is submerged in a tank of purified water. Of the 64 research reactors that existed in the United States in 1980, only 24 remain today.