Graduates complete nuclear fundamentals program through Aiken Tech, SRNS partnership

·3 min read

Aug. 5—For 23 students, their hard work over the last seven months paid off on Aug. 4 when they earned their Nuclear Fundamental Apprenticeship Program certificate.

Aiken Technical College partners with Savannah Nuclear River Solutions for the program, which sees the students take classes at ATC twice a week and work at the site two days a week, said Aherial Polite, the department chair of chemistry, physics and nuclear technology.

"So they're getting their training here at Aiken Tech, but they're also getting that on-the-job experience and some training there as well two days a week," Polite said. "So they're getting paid to work and come to school for free, so it's a really great experience."

The students take seven different courses, including three in chemistry and one in physics, Polite said. When they begin the program, the students start together; but as they continue on, they all go to different areas at Savannah River Site where they will be working.

"They get to get in the places they will be working," Polite said. "Upon completion of the program, if they do everything they need to, they get hired full time."

Dr. Forest Mahan, the president of ATC, spoke about the importance of apprenticeship programs and how participants can get on-the-job training. He added that if the students are successful, then they can have a good chance of leaving the program with a job.

"That is exactly what we're here to do," Mahan said. "We always look for the win/win, but in this instance you've got the win/win/win/win. It's a win for Aiken Tech because we have quality graduates, it's a win for SRNS because they get quality employees, it's a win for you because you get good paying jobs. It's not just a job, it's a career. These jobs are here to stay, and they're going to continue to be in demand for the much-distant future. It's also a win for your family because if you've got a family to support, it's going to make your lives a lot easier."

Rick Sprague, the SRNS senior vice president of environment, safety, health and quality, spoke about what they are expecting from the students when they're working at SRNS.

"We're going to set really high standards and expect you to meet those standards. We're going to allow you to work on missions that are vital to the country...," Sprague said. "When I'm asked what I do, I am part of the national security of this country, and that's what you do, too. When you think about what you're going out to do, you are responsible for helping build the deterrent to keep this country safe."

Kenneth Coop, a student in the program, said while the program was challenging, everyone helped each other and became a family.

"As unfunctional as we were, as dysfunctional as we were, everything was functional at the end of the day. It just made sense," Coop said. "We all helped each other."