VCU Engineering undergraduate and graduate students receive American Nuclear Society national scholarships

Dimitris Killinger and Sierra Tutwiler
Dimitris Killinger and Sierra Tutwiler

Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering students Sierra Tutwiler and Dimitris Killinger have received national scholarships from the American Nuclear Society (ANS) for 2020-21. Criteria for these highly competitive scholarships include academic excellence, career goals and leadership in ANS.

Tutwiler was the only student in the U.S. to receive both the ANS sophomore scholarship and its John and Muriel Landis Scholarship. She wanted to study nuclear engineering because she is interested in alternative energy, especially for transportation. Her professor, Lane Carasik, Ph.D., encouraged her to apply for the scholarship. Still, she was surprised to be selected for both because “there’s such a big drawing pool for any ANS scholarship.”

As a former recipient of an ANS scholarship himself, Carasik knew Tutwiler had a good shot because “she is one of our best students in the nuclear engineering program — and nuclear engineering program students are pretty great!”

“I'm glad we’re able to educate motivated students like Sierra in the program,” he said. “I hope her story can inspire future students at VCU to apply for every scholarship that faculty ask them to.”

For her part, Tutwiler agrees.

“Go for it, even if it seems daunting” she said. “People at VCU are here for you. There’s nothing to lose by trying.”

Killinger, a doctoral candidate, received this year’s ANS Fuel Cycle and Waste Management Division John D. Randall Scholarship. Killinger’s research focuses on developing new methods to improve nuclear waste characterization accountability. His adviser is Supathorn Phongikaroon, Ph.D., Qimonda associate professor and director of nuclear engineering programs at VCU.

“Past recipients of the Fuel Cycle and Waste Management Division John D. Randall Scholarships were from University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Tennessee at Knoxville and other top nuclear engineering programs,” Phongikaroon said. “Now VCU is getting this award for two consecutive years.  I am super proud of Dimitris and Sierra as shining stars from VCU.”

Reflecting on this recognition, Killinger credits his encouragement from his wife, also a nuclear engineer, with helping him push past fear of failure and stay focused on the finish line. He also said Phongikaroon’s willingness to “give students the time and resources to explore their ideas, and then send them around the world to discuss them at conferences” was invaluable.

“The wonderful faculty and staff of the VCU mechanical and nuclear engineering department has created an environment for students to learn and grow in the vast nuclear field,” Killinger said. “I am very lucky."