At one time or another they were all engineering students at UNC Charlotte. Now, eight 49er graduates are key members of the engineering team that is building the first new commercial nuclear reactors in the United States in the past 30 years.
The project is the construction of Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4 for Georgia Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company. CB&I and Westinghouse are building the new Westinghouse AP1000 Advanced Passive Light Water Reactors at the existing plant site near Waynesboro, Ga. CB&I is performing the engineering, procurement and construction for the project.
The Lee College of Engineering alumni working for CB&I on the project include Kevin Departhy, George Gora, Chuck Jenkins, Justin Marsh, Gregg Nantz, Dustin Parks, Rebecca Parks and Weston Trimble.
Below, the 49ers tell what it’s like to work at Vogtle with their classmates, how their education prepared them for the job, and what skills current students should cultivate to be successful.
Chuck Jenkins is a 2008 Mechanical Engineering graduate and was the first 49er on site. At the Vogtle project he is the principal engineer over Circulating Water, Potable Water, Waste Water, Sanitary Sewer, Compressed Air, Condenser Tube Cleaning, Condensate Polishers, Raw Water, Component Cooling, Secondary Sampling and Diesel Generator.
“It’s great to have a group of us here,” Jenkins said. “Initially, I was the lone UNC Charlotte graduate and many people I talked to thought I went to UNC Chapel Hill. Having a group of us who know the university and appreciate it is nice. It’s also good to have people here to talk about ongoing events at the school.”
The engineering work at Vogtle is exciting and challenging, Jenkins said. “There is a lot to learn and think about. Also, since this hasn’t been done in a while, we have had to re-build our processes and ways of doing business. This can be frustrating, but it is rewarding in the end with the experience and knowledge gained.
“My education gave me a good technical base, so I could understand and adapt quickly to my roles. The group projects and labs in school helped develop me into a “team player” and assisted in the group mentality of our CB&I/Vogtle organization.
“For existing 49er engineering students I would tell them the key attributes and skills to learn are adaptability, collaboration, communication (oral and written), and the basic technical fundamentals.”
Justin Marsh, who graduated in 2011 with one of UNC Charlotte’s first Systems Engineering bachelor’s degrees, has been on the project with CB&I for two years now.
“My systems education has been valuable in teaching me to work on a lot of different things and pull them all together,” Marsh said. “I’m doing mechanical engineering and design engineering, managing projects, and procuring parts and materials for my systems.
“At the site a lot of what engineering is, is the mindset and ability to get things done. And to that end the people interactions are key. I love my job. The work is challenging and rewarding. Every day I can see the results of my work come to life in concrete and steel.”
Rebecca Parks (Braswell), an Electrical Engineering Technology graduate, earned her degree in 2006 through the online bachelor’s of science program. She went to work for CB&I right out of school, and has been at Vogtle since July 2012 as acting lead for a group 30 engineers and designers creating the balance-of-plant systems.
“It is very exciting to be able to be part of the current generation of new build engineers,” Parks said. “I hope that the successful completion of this job will open up more opportunities for other new builds. It’s also nice to be able to share an alma mater with your co-workers, especially considering we are not working in the vicinity of the school.”
Much of what she learned at UNC Charlotte is relevant to her daily job activities, Parks said. “I think the 2 + 2 on-line program provided the leadership and teamwork qualities needed to excel in the industry.”
Gregg Nantz, a 2008 Mechanical Engineering graduate, leads the procurement group that buys material and equipment that has been designed by engineering. “I like my position and the responsibility it has to the overall success of the AP1000 project,” Nantz said. “It is very rewarding to be part of the engineering team that is leading the way for the re-emergence of nuclear power in the United States.”
Forty Niner pride is strong at the site, Nantz said. “We all share a common thread that has built a brother/sisterhood to represent UNC Charlotte as a leading engineering university in the power industry. The William States Lee College of Engineering professors, faculty and staff have developed a learning environment that allows the student to develop resourcefulness and the technical skills required to be successful in the power industry.”
In his advice to current students, Nantz said the skills crucial to producing safe nuclear power are understanding of engineering fundamentals, problem solving, attention to detail, critical thinking, technical accuracy, comprehension of written direction, communication skill (verbal and written), time management and ability to work in teams.
Kevin Departhy is a 2012 Mechanical Engineering grad with a concentration in energy and minor in physics. He is a site design engineer at Vogtle.
“The intense focus not only on theory, but on design project experience has given the UNC Charlotte grads an edge when it comes to leadership and working as a team,” Departhy said. “As one of the first to complete the concentration in energy through the EPIC program, I was much better equipped with industry knowledge and project experience.”
In his advice to current students, Departhy said to remember it is not all about technical abilities. “You must develop your soft skills and abilities to operate in a team. They are just as important.”