Girls take look at future in engineering; Y-12 hosts event

womenengineersTeresa Robbins, deputy manager of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Production Office, was among the speakers at Tuesday’s “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” program at Y-12’s New Hope Center. (KNS/Munger photo)


Teresa Robbins is a top executive in the National Nuclear Security Administration, overseeing work at two nuclear weapons plants, and she said the foundation for her successful career was a decision to pursue a degree in engineering.

Engineering made everything possible, she said.

“I came from a family that had never gone to college, and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Robbins said Tuesday at an “Introduce a Girl to Engineering” program at the Y-12 National Security Complex.

Robbins said she tried a couple of majors, accounting and then computer science, but wasn’t fully committed. Her boyfriend at the time — now her husband — suggested she might try engineering because she was good at math and science.

“I didn’t even know what engineers did,” she said.

So she researched it a little, and then along came the catastrophe at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Soviet Ukraine. That caught her attention and sparked her interest in getting a degree in nuclear engineering at the University of Tennessee.

“I wanted to learn more about that and what happened there,” she said.

Robbins, deputy manager of the NNSA’s Production Office, was among dozens of women engineers who shared stories and interacted with about 150 girls from local schools at Tuesday’s event.

Syretta Vaughn, a facility safety engineer, said her favorite job was helping with the demolition of old buildings at the K-25 uranium-enrichment site in Oak Ridge. She said it involved a lot more than just a wrecking ball hitting a wall, requiring preparations to make sure the environment wasn’t hurt during the process.

“I really liked tearing down buildings,” Vaughn said.

The professionals told the students that engineering jobs satisfied their wants and needs on many fronts � solving problems, being creative and earning substantial salaries.

Susan Kozemko, a senior technical advisor at Y-12, admitted that money was a motivator when choosing a career, although it wasn’t her top priority.

Brianna Short, a junior at Lenoir City High School and a self-described nerd, said she loves working with computers and looks forward to a career as a software engineer or something akin to that.

Her classmate at Lenoir City, Alexandra McFall, said she too is considering engineering as a career path, but she’s more likely to become a chemical engineer.

“I really like chemistry,” she said.

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.