Nuclear Engineering Students Spotlight

Meet three nuclear engineering students: Kaitlyn, Jocelynn, and Amanda.

Meet Kaitlyn, a Nuclear Engineering StudentKaitlyn, Nuclear Engineer

Kaitlyn is a senior Nuclear Engineering student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. She studies Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences.

Can you tell us a bit about Nuclear Engineering and what it’s like to study?

My major offers many different paths of study. For my path, I study atoms: everything is made up of atoms, which are so small that you can’t even see them. When you break apart certain types of atoms, energy is released. In my classes, I am learning about how to make a device called a nuclear reactor. Inside the reactor, we break apart these atoms and use the energy to produce electricity, which powers your lights you turn on at home. The energy from these atoms may even be used to power rockets or moon colonies one day!

Can you describe a day in your life as you study Nuclear Engineering?

As a college student, every day is always different! Usually, I try to schedule my classes for the morning because that’s when I focus best. In the afternoons, I do my homework first. Then I usually spend a few hours doing research work or having meetings with my senior project team or research mentors. If I don’t have much research work to do, I focus on preparing material or grading for the classes that I help teach.

After that, I often have events for one of my clubs, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). I’ll sometimes take a break from work to attend those. The events are all very different: we have outreach events, workshops, study tip sessions, chocolate eating events, game nights, seminars, and more! The SWE meetings give students an awesome opportunity to connect with female engineers in other fields.

If I don’t have a SWE event, I often take some time to work on planning my own SWE event – as the elementary outreach officer, I plan a day of engineering activities for elementary school students. After these events, I might work on homework some more, or, if I have free time, I spend time with my roommates, do some sewing or embroidery work, cook a cool dinner, and/or make a fun dessert.

It’s a busy life but very rewarding!


Meet Jocelynn, a Nuclear Engineering StudentJocelynn, Nuclear Engineer

Jocelynn is a senior studying Nuclear Engineering at Penn State University. She is finishing up her final semester. Jocelynn will be graduating with her bachelor’s degrees in Nuclear Engineering and Mechanical Engineering this December! 

What are some really cool things you are working on?

One thing I love about nuclear engineering is the huge range of work that you can do with the degree that you might not think about at first.

As a nuclear engineer, you can work on making clean energy, powering submarines and aircraft carriers for the navy, making medicine, sending astronauts to space… the opportunities are endless!

Can you tell us how cultural diversity is a good thing for the Nuclear Engineering field?

Cultural diversity is a fantastic thing to have in the nuclear engineering field. Women can bring different ideas to problem solving. Women also tend to be good at communicating, which is important for teams to succeed.

What do you love most about the Nuclear Engineering program at Penn State?

The Penn State Nuclear Engineering program just split from a joint department with Mechanical Engineering. This change helps the department allow more types of classes that students can take. It will also bring more talented teachers to the university.

We also have a nuclear reactor on campus. Students who are studying Nuclear Engineering get to have lab classes in the nuclear reactor facility. Some students even work in the facility. I am so excited to see this program grow to be even better in the near future!

One of the unique things that I love about Penn State is the Women in Engineering Program. This program works to give women engineers the tools they need to succeed before they even step foot into a classroom. The program also helps connect you with other women in the same shoes as you. I’ve met some of my closest friends and developed strong mentoring relationships through this program that have been invaluable to me.


Meet Amanda, a Nuclear Engineering StudentAmanda, Nuclear Engineer

Amanda is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is studying Mechanical Engineering with a focus in Nuclear Engineering and a minor in Bioengineering. Amanda plans to graduate with her degree in December 2021! 

What are some really cool things Nuclear Engineers work on?

Personally, I think the use of nuclear energy in the defense industry is the most interesting to me!

This is the type of work I do with my co-op company. We work on designing and managing nuclear reactors on board the US Navy’s submarines and aircraft carriers (about 45% of the total fleet!)

Some other cool things include medical applications with MRI and PET scan improvements, getting rid of nuclear waste, and even making nuclear weapons.

Can you tell us about a time that you failed and how you overcame that?

One of my first big failures I can remember from my college career was my freshman year when I failed the very first physics exam of the semester. I remember being in complete shock. I had always had straight-A’s and been top of my class in high school. School had just come easily to me up until now.

That exam was a wakeup call. I was in one of the top public engineering programs in the US. I was surrounded by kids from all over the world, who were also the smartest where they’re from. I understood then that this wasn’t going to be easy for any of us.

To move on from that, I really had to buckle down for the rest of the semester. I had to work extra hard in my physics class. Despite physics being my toughest course, I eventually did really well in it. I found that I enjoyed it, as well.

I enjoyed physics so much that I ended up picking Mechanical Engineering as my major. Mechanical Engineering is one of the most physics-intensive branches of engineering out there.

My advice would be to acknowledge your weaknesses first. Then make this an area of focus (even if it’s not your favorite). Engineering is not always easy, but if you keep working at it, it will become one of your strengths.


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