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August 28, 2008

Pitt nuclear programs get NRC funding

As part of a federal effort to expand the national nuclear energy workforce, Pitt has received three government grants totaling $750,000 to bolster the nuclear engineering undergraduate and graduate certificate programs based in the Swanson School of Engineering.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) awarded 60 institutions nearly $20 million in nuclear education grants to support course development, scholarships and fellowships and faculty recruitment for nuclear energy-related programs.

Pitt’s two-year-old nuclear engineering certificate program — the only such track in western Pennsylvania — and Bloomsburg University were the only institutions in the state to receive awards. They join such institutions as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University and Virginia Tech in obtaining NRC support.

Larry R. Foulke, director of Pitt’s nuclear engineering program, said the NRC grants will be instrumental in expanding the nuclear program’s research and teaching capability. Pitt will use a $450,000 faculty development grant to broaden the program to include nuclear-oriented faculty research in addition to the current emphasis on educating students in reactor operations and safety.

A $200,000 grant will go toward establishing undergraduate scholarships, and a second-year award of $100,000 will promote the expansion of the graduate-level certificate program’s distance learning component. That builds on an initial $200,000 NRC grant in 2007 used to create a distance learning segment that is geared to students across Pennsylvania and offers further education to nuclear engineers already in the workplace, Foulke said.

Westinghouse Electric Co. and FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. endorsed Pitt’s program as a key source of the trained professionals both companies need.

Pitt nuclear engineering students work with professionals from Westinghouse, one of the world’s largest vendors of nuclear reactor technology; the Bechtel Bettis Inc. naval nuclear propulsion research laboratory in West Mifflin, and FirstEnergy, which operates the Beaver Valley Power Station nuclear power plant in Shippingport.

In addition, an advisory committee of engineers and managers from these companies took part in designing the curriculum and experts from those companies are serving as adjunct professors.

Filed under: Feature,Volume 41 Issue 1

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