Summer program turns teachers into nuclear students

Tables turned for a dozen teachers this week as they swapped roles and sat behind desks as students during the Southeastern Summer Nuclear Institute, organized by the Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness.

 

The annual professional development course wrapped up its third year after a three-day stretch of classes, tours and guest speakers.

Teachers traveled to the University of South Carolina Aiken from as far away as Atlanta and Greenville, S.C., to take part in the institute.

“I got a notice about the program from our district professional development,” said Dr. Laurel Sullivan, a physical science and biology teacher from Spring Hill High School in Lexington, S.C.

“I was interested because my son is in a nuclear field in the Navy and I wanted to understand more.We live very close to the V.C. Summer nuclear plant, too. Since we are a career pathways magnet school, this information will help guide students who want to work at the plant.”

The nuclear institute included tours of several nuclear connected entities from the defense, energy and medical industries.

The group toured Savannah River Site, Plant Vogtle and the nuclear medicine department at Augusta University.

“This year is my first year with SSNI, but we did add a few aspects to this year’s tours,” said Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness Director Jim Marra. “We did an expanded tour of Savannah River National Laboratory. That gave the teachers a chance to see the research side of SRS missions along with the operational plant side.”

Marra said the institute’s goal is to get accurate information about nuclear activities into the hands of educators.

He said that information could help society as a whole understand its relation to nuclear work and the importance of nuclear efforts in energy, medicine and national defense.

“When we teach in class, a lot of the teens pay more attention to things with a little danger, so I think I tend to kind of ramp those things up in class,” said Karis Texidor, a physical science and Advanced Placement chemistry teacher at Evans High School. “After seeing more of the occupational side, not just the chemistry side of nuclear, I think I may have done a disservice to some of those students. The biggest takeaway from this is a solid, balanced nuclear education.”

Sullivan and Texidor both said they gained new perspectives on the occupational aspects of the nuclear industry.

“There is a lot of opportunity for skilled labor at SRS,” Sullivan said. “I’m going to take back a better understanding of career opportunities for our students that you don’t need a four-year degree for. SRS was interesting because they would offer workers new positions and then train them to do that job. They really invest in their workforce.”

Marra said he hopes the program can expand farther into the South in coming years.

“The Southeast region is important in nuclear industry,” he said. “We had teachers here from technical institutes, from their recruiting teams.

“We want a broader range of teachers and staff to be able to take information back to better be able to help students make decisions about their futures.”

Said Texidor: “From the chemistry side, I loved the national lab. “Everything in the program was great and it was really informative. I learned a lot of good, new ways to present information to the students.”

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Reach Thomas Gardiner at (706) 823-3339 or thomas.gardiner@augustachronicle.com.

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