The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) this week awarded the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) a five-year, $850,000 grant to train undergraduate minority students to enter the nuclear-related workforce or pursue graduate study in areas such as nuclear medicine, health physics and other related fields.
The grant – “Preparing Minorities for Nuclear-Related Jobs through Research and Certification” – will provide undergraduate minority scholarships toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees; provide extensive exposure to nuclear-related jobs through field trips and seminars; and provide mentored nuclear-related research experiences in radiochemistry, control and instrumentation, math, physics and material sciences.
The NRC grant also will support completion of the five-course, Texas A&M University Nuclear Power Institute (NPI) online certificate program, which will enhance students’ qualifications to enter nuclear power plant jobs and nuclear engineering studies following graduation. The NPI certificate program is available to anyone wishing to complete these five online courses through UHD.
In addition to NPI, UHD will continue its close working relationships with Texas A&M University’s Nuclear Engineering Department, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston, the South Texas Project Nuclear Operating Company and the Comanche Peak Nuclear Power Plant as partners on the grant.
The grant will support more than 50 UHD students as members of Scholars Academy, an academically competitive program in UHD’s College of Sciences and Technology that promotes scholarship and success for undergraduates majoring in STEM fields. Throughout its 15-year existence, Scholars Academy has built an alumni base of over 700 graduates, with more than 41 percent pursuing graduate school or professional programs and more than 50 percent continuing to work in STEM fields.
In exchange for this specialized study, participating students will commit to working in nuclear-related STEM jobs for six months per year of their grant-supported training. These students will receive a competitive advantage when pursuing employment at NRC.
“This NRC grant will provide invaluable opportunities for students to learn from doctorate-level UHD and Texas A&M professors and experience firsthand the emerging field of nuclear science, while also bolstering Houston’s pipeline of future nuclear science leaders,” said Mary Jo Parker, Ed.D., executive director of Scholars Academy at UHD. “This award is a direct result of the University’s success with past NRC grants and our faculty’s flexibility and willingness to incorporate nuclear-related aspects in their ongoing research agendas.
“From the study of computational chemistry, nanosensors and radiation therapy to the modeling of radioactive elements in the laboratory, the knowledge and skills our students will gain through this NRC award will help to pave their scientific and engineering futures.”
In addition to Parker, who will direct the program and serve as its principal investigator, UHD professors Mian Jiang, Ph.D., Maria Benavides, Ph.D., Weining Feng, Ph.D., and Katarina Jegdic, Ph.D., will serve as co-principle investigators on the grant.
This award is the fourth NRC grant UHD has received toward increasing and supporting undergraduates seeking to contribute to nuclear-related fields. In total, NRC has provided the University with more than $1.7 million to recruit and prepare underrepresented STEM students for graduate programs or work in nuclear-related chemistry and physics, nuclear engineering, nuclear medicine, or nuclear energy and power workforce sectors.