By Rebecca E. Jones
More than 600 students and professionals from across the U.S. are expected at the American Nuclear Society (ANS) National Student Conference to be hosted by VCU College of Engineering April 4-6, 2019. This is the first time a university in Virginia has been selected to host this event.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Nuclear is.”
VCU doctoral students Sarah Morgan and Daniell Tincher and undergraduate Meredith Eaheart are co-chairing the conference with guidance from faculty advisor Supathorn Phongikaroon, Ph.D., associate professor and director of nuclear engineering programs at VCU.
“The idea is that nuclear engineering is so many things — policy, energy, health care,” Morgan said. “We wanted the theme and conference to reflect that. I think this may have tipped the scales in our favor when we applied to host.”
The conference will offer 22 research tracks. Top presentations will receive cash or travel awards, and the top six presenters overall will be invited to further develop their research for a peer-reviewed journal.
Students will have a chance to improve their presentation skills in a workshop presented by trainers from the Alan Alda Institute for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in New York. Developed by the actor and writer best known for his work on the TV series M*A*S*H, this workshop helps scientists connect with audiences and present complex ideas more effectively.
At the conference’s career fair, more than 30 employers will meet — and recruit — undergraduate and graduate students. Later, participants may choose to join excursions to some of Virginia’s nuclear engineering sites, including the Dominion Energy Surry Power Station and the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Nuclear Science User Facilities (NSUF) has scheduled a one-day meeting at VCU Engineering timed to coincide with the ANS conference. Students will get to see the latest instruments and discuss NSUF research opportunities, which include no-cost research access to nuclear facilities.
The co-chairs are also using the conference to educate teens about nuclear engineering. They have organized a nuclear science fair for high school students as well as a career fair aimed at showing young people the wide range of jobs in the field.
“We’re inviting future science and engineering majors and vocational students, because nuclear engineering has so many opportunities for people with both kinds of skills and training,” Tincher said.
Phongikaroon said this ANS national student conference lineup reflects VCU’s strengths in nuclear engineering education. These include VCU’s strong balance between research and teaching, and its focus on grounding both in everyday life.
“We are talking about STEM in a complete format, not in isolation. We are asking, ‘What is the bridge between STEM and the real world,’” he said. “We believe anyone can cross that bridge.”