Nuclear Engineering Program Gets Three Federal Grants

Issue Date: 
August 19, 2008

nuclear.jpgThe University of Pittsburgh received three government grants totaling $750,000 to bolster the nuclear engineering undergraduate and graduate certificate programs based in Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently awarded 60 institutions nearly $20 million in Nuclear Education Grants meant 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 of Pennsylvania were the only institutions in the state to receive an award. They join such institutions as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University, and Virginia Tech in obtaining NRC support.“These grants signify that the University of Pittsburgh is becoming a major player in nuclear engineering education and in meeting the workforce and research needs for the nuclear renaissance in the United States,” said Larry R. Foulke, director of Pitt’s nuclear engineering program, which includes the graduate and undergraduate certificate tracks.lrf.jpg Larry FoulkeThe NRC grants will be instrumental in expanding the nuclear program’s research and teaching capability, Foulke said. 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 module, a unique aspect of Pitt’s graduate certificate that is geared toward students across Pennsylvania and offering further education to nuclear engineers already in the workplace, Foulke said.Westinghouse Electric Co. and FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co. submitted letters of support to the NRC endorsing Pitt’s program as a key source of the trained professionals both companies increasingly seek. With its unique concentration of nuclear engineering experts, Western Pennsylvania is emerging as a focal point of nuclear power’s budding resurgence in light of the rising cost of oil and the political and environmental concerns associated with fossil fuels.Pitt nuclear engineering students work closely 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 three companies took part in designing the curriculum to ensure that students learn the most relevant information, and experts from those companies also serve as adjunct professors.