USC Aiken Hosts CNTA's Nuclear Institute for STEM Educators

Staff Report From Aiken CEO

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness presented its annual Southeastern Summer Nuclear Institute at University of South Carolina Aiken's Ruth Patrick Science Education Center.

For the last four years, CNTA has presented SSNI for area educators, including teachers, guidance counselors, and career advisors, sharing insights about the nuclear technology field and how to incorporate STEM concepts into K-12 curricula.

"CNTA developed SSNI as a means to immerse regional educators into the nuclear field and provide accurate and objective information on nuclear fundamentals, nuclear energy, nuclear technologies and workforce opportunities," said Dr. Jim Marra, executive director of CNTA.

Participants came from all over the region. This year, elementary, middle and high school educators, administrators, and representatives from adult continuing-education programs attended SSNI.

Workshop discussions included a variety of industry-related topics, including atomic and nuclear fundamentals. Attendees learned from local scientists basic information regarding the atom and radionuclides, which are unstable atoms that emit radiation. Objective facts on radiation were provided including: radiation types, how it is measured, how it can be controlled, and how it can be safely applied. Several hands-on activities were used to demonstrate the fundamentals. Throughout the three-day seminar, attendees learned about myriad nuclear applications. Specifically, they explored how radionuclides are used in healthcare, industrial applications, food safety and space exploration.

"I have taught physics for 10 years, and this workshop allowed me to delve into nuclear topics more deeply and to interact with veterans from the nuclear industry," said Robert Bennett, a teacher at Douglas County High School."

"This has provided me resources that I can directly use in the classroom."

Area experts also presented power generation fundamentals and information about nuclear power. Discussions centered on energy sources that are currently used in society and facts regarding their usage. Additionally, educators learned how nuclear power plants operate and how they are safely managed. Participants discussed the risks - both real and perceived - that are associated with the nuclear field and what to expect from the nuclear workforce of the future. They learned how nuclear-related risks are part of daily lives, how they are perceived by the public, and how they can be managed.

"I was looking to learn more information on nuclear [technology] to clarify any misconceptions that I might have had. I learned lots of information in the presentations and tours that clarified misinformation that I had received," said Samaritan Simmons an accelerated 7th-grade math teacher at Lakeside Middle School.

"Teachers can't teach unless they understand the information and materials they are teaching. This workshop enhanced my understanding on a number of nuclear-related topics."

Finally, regarding the future workforce, the educators discussed the wide range of nuclear job opportunities in the region, the current demand, and the educational requirements of students who may want to pursue these careers.

"I did not appreciate that there were so many pathways to a career in the nuclear industry. This will allow me to instruct and guide students to make good career choices," Bennett said.

During breakout sessions, the educators also discussed how they might incorporate workforce development into K-12 curricula and explored how they could inspire young girls to explore STEM opportunities.

"Like CNTA, the university is fully committed to the mission of education and equipping students so they can go forth and make a difference," said Dr. Daren Timmons, dean of the USC Aiken College of Sciences and Engineering.

"What you do matters," he told the educators attending the SSNI.

"Thank you for what you give to the next generation of STEM leaders."

In addition to workshops and discussions led by leading scientists and educators, participants visited area industry leaders, including the Savannah River Site and Plant Vogtle.

"Nuclear technology is vital to our region, so providing educators with knowledge that they can bring back to their classrooms is important," Marra said.

"Further, by making site visits, the educators get to see firsthand the exciting work that is conducted at nuclear facilities in the CSRA and the wide range of job opportunities in the nuclear field."

Bennett who attended SSNI for the first time agreed, saying the tours were highlights of the week.

"For the nuclear unit I teach, this will allow me to provide insights that I could never get from a textbook. Seeing facilities in person will allow me to relate real world applications on to the students."

Several local companies and organizations helped fund the institute. CNTA also received a grant from the American Nuclear Society to provide educational materials to participants.