When about 40 Augusta Technical College students showed up for orientation Monday morning, they were greeted by school officials and Southern Co. executives.
The occasion: Augusta Tech unveiled its newest associate degree program, Nuclear Engineering Technology. The program is a partnership between the college and Southern Co., which is in the process of adding reactor Units 3 and 4 to Plant Vogtle.
That expansion promises many jobs in the coming years, which is why Charlie Nesbitt, training deployment manager for Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4, was so excited Monday.
"Have you ever seen the planets and stars align the way they are now?" he asked the students. "This degree program is tailor-made for the nuclear industry. We have received applications from such a motivated and diverse group of students. And the first graduating class coincides with a lot of needs for people we'll have as we start up Units 3 and 4."
With a grade of B or higher in core courses, students receiving the degree will also get a certificate that grants advanced placement in National Academy for Nuclear Training-accredited programs in the nuclear industry.
"We are looking for you two years down the road to come out of this program and join us," said Paul Rushton, the acting manager for Units 3 and 4. "In this program, we have been working very closely with the Augusta Technical College staff, and they have been doing a tremendous job."
Other Southern Co. officials emphasized the employment opportunities. It was the prospect of a well-paying job that persuaded Daniel Wick to attend Augusta Tech after his freshman year at Augusta State University.
"It's a very solid opportunity to work at Southern Nuclear or any other nuclear power plant," said Wick, 19, a Lakeside High School graduate. "And the pay is solid."
Wick said he hadn't been certain what path he wanted to pursue at ASU, but he also wasn't immediately sold on the idea of a career in the nuclear industry.
"I researched it, and it led me to understand this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up," he said.
Jo Anne Robinson, Augusta Tech's dean of information and engineering technology, told the students they are the first class in what will become one of the most rigorous programs at the college. She stressed to them the importance of putting forth extra effort because their course work and classroom behavior will be watched not only by faculty, but also by Southern Co. officials, who will regularly visit the classes.
Because of the security clearance required to work at nuclear plants, students will be subject to a federal background check and could be denied the clearance to do the internship, which would prevent their earning the degree or getting a job in the industry.