Editor: Dan Yurman
Nuclear energy, like many other highly technical science and engineering fields, was led in the post World War II era by men. In the decades that followed, many women entered the field. An indication of how much that presence has grown is that the Women in Nuclear (WIN) organization now lists 4,500 members, according to a press release from the Nuclear Energy Institute, which is a sponsoring organization for WIN.
The latest crowd sourced blog post here at ANS Nuclear Cafe is a series of profiles of exceptional women in the nuclear energy field. ANS asked for brief profiles for publication and we are very pleased to present them here.
These are first person stories, e.g., “How I become a nuclear professional and the importance of what I have achieved” in terms of career satisfaction, work-life balance, career ladders, technical mastery, or meeting a management challenge.
We published these profiles because we think that they tell interesting stories, and we hope you agree.
Nuclear Fuel Services Manager
Southern Nuclear Operating Company
I grew up following the space program and knew by the time that I got to high school that I wanted to study engineering in college. I wanted to be one of the people who knew how complicated things worked and who made complicated things work. The colleges that I was applying to required a choice of major. I literally looked down the list of engineering majors and passed judgment on each option. When I got to “nuclear” on the list, it sounded interesting and hard. I picked nuclear engineering, and have never looked back.
In college, I joined the cooperative education (co-op) program, which meant that I alternated work and school semesters to earn money and gain work experience. Co-op was also a wonderful opportunity to live away from home and school and to test myself in the real world.
In 1989, after 12 years at Savannah River Site, I joined Southern Nuclear as a core designer for the Vogtle 2 nuclear power plant. I worked in core design and fuel-related licensing until 2006, when I moved into nuclear fuel procurement. More recently my responsibilities have expanded to include characterization of burned fuel for dry cask storage, burned fuel inspection activities, and new fuel fabrication oversight—all in addition to fuel procurement.
I love seeing my ideas put into action. I love the idea that I help make electricity, which has such a profoundly positive impact on peoples’ lives.
Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer
My mother was an English teacher and my father was an engineer. They seldom agreed on politics or religion, but they always agreed on the importance of education and personal values. Growing up, family time was an opportunity to learn and practice open debate, with the most valuable lesson being that I learned to ask really good questions.
I’ve had exceptional opportunities to study and manage large, complex technological and natural systems to understand energy, environmental, and political intersections. These inextricably integrated systems require our continued stewardship and trade-off solutions by our best scientists, engineers, and social scientists.
As a parent, consumer, engineer, and global citizen, it’s important to me that we evaluate all energy options. As science and technology innovations lead us to review new trade-offs, we must continue to question and weigh options. Our social and economic stability depends on a flexible and diverse energy portfolio. Most of my career I’ve advised policy, business, and industry decision makers. And, it’s clear to me that nuclear energy is an essential component of a sustainable, emissions-free energy system.
I’m proud to be part of the Westinghouse tradition of excellence and innovation in science and technology. The AP1000® is the safest and most efficient nuclear reactor ever designed and licensed. In addition, I’m confident that our small modular reactor will offer an equally safe and efficient choice that customers can rely on in an increasingly carbon-regulated world.
I’ve never been one to plot my career path. Instead, I’ve gravitated toward work that makes a lasting contribution to the world that our children will inherit. We’ll never have all the answers, but we have an ethical responsibility to be fearless about asking all the questions.
Engineer, LOCA Analysis & Methods
I arrived at Westinghouse as a new college graduate two years ago. My first days provided an impressive perspective on the level of responsibility available for young engineers in the nuclear industry. With a growing number of engineers approaching retirement age and the rapid changes around new nuclear technology, there are numerous opportunities to learn and advance. My first months at Westinghouse were spent immersing myself in learning about loss-of-coolant accident (LOCA) long-term cooling analysis for the entire Westinghouse C-E reactor (Combustion Engineering) fleet of plants. The expectation was that, over time, I would amass enough knowledge to serve as the new subject matter expert.
I was initially overwhelmed by the high expectations of the nuclear industry. Getting up to speed with the volumes of knowledge was no small feat. Most knowledge transfer on older technology occurred in one-on-one information sharing sessions. I spent weeks meeting with previous experts, documenting everything they told me.
Now I feel light-years away from where I started. LOCA long-term cooling analysis is a current Nuclear Regulatory Commission focus. As a result, I’ve faced several difficult questions from the staff. I’ve learned to rely on my peers and other resources because an accurate answer is more important than an immediate answer. The biggest lesson learned, however, is to never try to do everything on your own!
This experience has been highly rewarding. I’ve recently presented in front of the NRC, traveled to several plants, and spoken with customers about my work. Although I’ve only worked in the industry for two years, I can now consider myself a subject matter expert!
Kathryn A. McCarthy
Deputy Associate Laboratory Director
for Nuclear Science & Technology
Idaho National Laboratory
I was going to major in music. I played clarinet in the Phoenix Youth Symphony and in my high school band. I loved it. But the music programs in high schools were being cut as state budgets were reduced. I’m practical, so I considered other options. I had grown up around engineers and scientists. My father was a chemical engineer and worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for many years. I was good at math and science, and I enjoyed it. So I decided to look into engineering, which was a good combination of math, science, and practicality.
My high school physics teacher would often talk about nuclear energy. It sounded interesting, so I decided to major in nuclear engineering. I received my B.S. in nuclear engineering from the University of Arizona (where I had a wonderful mentor in Norman Hillberry, one of the designers of the first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile), and my M.S. and Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles. My area of research was fusion energy. Research in fission was limited then, and fusion energy had lots of interesting research options.
After graduate school, I worked for six months at the Kernforschungszentrum, Karlsruhe, research institution in Germany and then for a year in the Soviet Union, before coming to the Idaho National Laboratory, where I’ve worked for 20 years, first in fusion and then in fission technology.
My husband of 25 years is one of the main reasons that I’m successful. He’s an engineer with a Ph.D., and he has always been supportive of my career. We’ve raised two wonderful boys (my most important job), and I’ve been able to balance work and family most of the time.
My current role at INL is Deputy Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear Science and Technology, where I’m responsible for the execution of about $250 million worth of research and development programs.
I miss playing clarinet, but began taking piano lessons several years ago, so I still have my foot in that door, too.
Gail H. Marcus
Former President, American Nuclear Society
Whenever I talk to students about careers, I always tell them that careers are like snowflakes—no two are alike. Even if someone goes to the same university or takes the same first job, the landscape changes over time, and a second person can never follow the identical path.
Therefore, I tell them not to put too much emphasis on a career model. Instead, I emphasize the value of broad skills, diverse experiences, flexibility, and networking. And of how volunteering in one’s professional society can help career progression.
When I first joined ANS, I really didn’t have any expectation of getting involved in Society governance. But ANS ticked me off by issuing a pink badge, used for spouses, to my husband (really!), and then one thing led to another.
At some point, I realized that being involved in Society activities was benefiting me in many ways. Early in my career, it gave me opportunities to learn and exercise skills I later applied in my workplace. Throughout my career, it also gave me a chance to get to know many people outside my own field and my own organization.
If this sounds like an ad for ANS, so be it. The opportunities within ANS are numerous and diverse, so there is something for almost every interest. I encourage every member of ANS, but particularly the younger members, to get involved. Volunteering in ANS will not lead everyone to the same path I followed, but it will almost certainly prove a valuable experience.
As for me, I always wonder how my career would have evolved if ANS had not handed my husband a pink badge. In retrospect, I guess I’m grateful they did.
Vice President, Advocacy
Kelle Barfield says that she became a nuclear professional through first
receiving an undergrad degree in journalism from the University of Texas, a graduate degree in communications management from Syracuse University, and
by working in the publishing world in Manhattan and Birmingham, Ala. But all
roads led her home, back to her roots in Vicksburg, Miss., where she married
an engineer who worked in nuclear at Entergy’s nearby Grand Gulf Nuclear
Beginning her Entergy career 25 years ago as a technical editor at Grand
Gulf, Barfield has successfully navigated the organization chart from
nuclear to utility positions back to nuclear, giving her a unique breadth
and competency in the nuclear sector. Leading national efforts and
considered a respected, knowledgeable thought-leader, Barfield’s passion for
the nuclear industry is noteworthy.
When Toni Beck was hired by Entergy as a new corporate communications group vice president at the New Orleans headquarters, she saw the opportunity to weave Entergy’s nuclear advocacy efforts into the broader public awareness that Entergy tries to instill about all aspects of energy policy.
Barfield is now shaping a new position created at Entergy: Vice President for Advocacy Communications. With bold thinking for the corporate giant, Beck is
leveraging Barfield’s management and industry expertise, moving her from the
nuclear headquarters in Jackson, Miss., to the New Orleans office
overlooking the Louisiana Superdome.
Barfield commented that the shape of the Superdome reminds her of a short,
fat cooling tower. “Once a nuke, always a nuke,” she remarked as she
packed boxes for her new office. This nuke isn’t going too far, only
Michaele (Mikey) Brady Raap, Ph.D.
Chief Engineer, Battelle Northwest Division
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
ANS Treasurer and Chairman of the Professional Divisions Committee
How does a kid (especially a girl) who attended high school in the same small Texas town that her mother grew up in end up with a PhD in nuclear engineering and an officer of an 11,000 member organization like the American Nuclear Society?
I often wonder myself, how did I get here? Most of my family (still in rural Texas) think I’m stubborn enough to do anything, but they wonder what DO I do?
In high school, I wrote a research paper on nuclear power. It was totally awe inspiring to think of the amount of energy that is released from something you couldn’t even see. After all the work (grades, testing, essay writing, etc.) associated with applying for colleges and scholarships (my only option for college), I decided I should be pursuing something that really excited me…so I checked a box that said “nuclear engineering.” I spent my first four years of college trying to figure out exactly what an engineer was!
By the time I finished my B.S., we were just getting to the good stuff. I stayed for my M.S., which included spending time at the university’s TRIGA reactor, and then for my PhD, which culminated in a three-year graduate research opportunity at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Wow, was I a long way from home!
I found a lot of support in my early involvement in ANS—both as a student and as a professional. That experience gave me confidence and provided opportunities for me to grow as a professional. ANS was also where I learned that nuclear is so much more than an academic study, a lab experiment, or electricity generation. It’s a powerful science with applications in medicine, space exploration, agriculture, food processing, etc. There are endless opportunities to support and improve current applications and to identify new uses of nuclear science and technology. For many developing countries, nuclear is the option that most effectively enables them to increase the standard of living for the masses.
After more than 25 years, I’m still jazzed by the potential of nuclear and thankful that I have the opportunity everyday to learn something new.
The editors at ANS would like to thank these contributors for sharing their stories with our readers. We hope that you find them inspiring.
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