Savannah River engineers engage students in real-world problem solving

January 21, 2022, 7:00AMNuclear News
From left to right, Richmond County Technical Career Magnet School (Team 1) students Leila Cortez, Jaidyn Moore, and Tamea Dunnom and teacher Carla Biley won third place in Best Engineering Student Design at the WORCshop@AU event. They are joined by Rick Connolly, SRNS operations and maintenance director and WORCshop@AU judge (second from right).

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions (SRNS), the Department of Energy contractor responsible for the management and operations of the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, partnered with Augusta University to create WORCshop@AU, an education outreach opportunity to introduce local high school students to nuclear science careers by solving a real-world problem. The program concluded on December 9, when student teams presented their solutions during a friendly competition.

Beginning in August 2021, SRNS engineers volunteered to mentor students and their teachers while they researched how to cost effectively transport nearly 3,000 construction workers to and from the Savannah River Plutonium Processing Facility (SRPPF) construction work site at the Savannah River Site. SRPPF is part of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s two-site approach to revitalize the nation’s plutonium pit production capabilities in support of the nuclear deterrent. The students presented their solutions to an audience of 150 people consisting of their peers, educators, and a three-judge panel of SRNS employees.

Student solutions: The WORCshop@AU teams presented solutions that are environmentally friendly and cost effective. They examined options utilizing hydrogen, natural gas, or electric buses and encouraged carpooling and parking lot expansions. Students also weighed the safety and security implications of increased traffic, important factors for SRS as it carries out national security missions.

Commenting on the event and mentor volunteers, SRNS education outreach programs specialist Taylor Rice said, “I am thoroughly impressed with the innovative solutions presented by each team. Nineteen SRNS volunteer mentors assisted these students and teachers throughout the school year as they developed plausible solutions to an authentic problem. This project was a great way to connect industry with classrooms in the region.”

Winning presentation: The winning team from Augusta Preparatory Day School earned the title Best Engineering Student Design and received a trophy and a $100 gift card. The team’s teacher, James Mason, said, “These are hardworking students, with a strong interest in science, technology, engineering, and math fields, and they really enjoyed working with the talented engineers from SRNS to explore the engineering design process while solving a real-world problem.”

Kathryn Geoffroy, a student on the winning team, said, “This project gave me an opportunity to not only dive into my future aspirations of engineering, but it furthered my problem-solving skills in the world of logistics. Being able to work with people from SRNS opened my eyes to the wide range of jobs offered at the site. Additionally, the use of advanced placement chemistry applications and multiple ideas my teammate Hannah and I brainstormed allowed us to realize the importance of electric transportation during the climate crisis.”

WORC II: NNSA announced funding for the Workforce Opportunities in Regional Careers II (WORC II) grant program in 2020. The $5 million investment supports the development of the future workforce to carry out vital missions at SRS. The Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization administers and oversees the distribution of the grant to academic partner institutions, including Augusta University. A small portion of the WORC II grant was used to develop WORCshop@AU. Growing NNSA missions at SRS in support of the nation’s nuclear deterrent prompted NNSA to enhance its efforts to develop an enduring workforce that will carry out these long-term missions.

WORCshop@AU teacher and student teams were:

  • Augusta Preparatory Day School teacher James Mason and students Kathryn Geoffroy and Hannah McDonough (first place winner of Best Engineering Student Design).
  • Evans High School teacher Courtney Bernal and students Ha’ani Ismael, Yumeka Katonka, Georgia Walden, and Velmuel Smith (second place winner of Best Engineering Student Design).
  • Richmond County Technical Career Magnet School (Team 1) teacher Carla Biley and students Tamea Dunnom, Jaidyn Moore, Rashad Wright, Amarie McNeal, and Leila Cortez (third place winner of Best Engineering Student Design).
  • Hephzibah High School teacher Jeremy Dingman and students Xavier Argyle, Blayne Gates, Reuben Griffin, and Ariel Rineer.
  • Richmond County Technical Career Magnet School (Team 2) teacher Nathalie Pace and students Travis Lee, Hannah Rhodes, Laila Anthony, Melannae Zamor, and Alana Potter.
  • Edmund Burke Academy teacher Kim Tsakonas and students Braelyn Reeves, Dennis Eberly, Trey III Johnson, Braddock Wilson, Luck Poma, Darcy Rich, Ava Timms, Noah Christian, and Jordan Giles.

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