Pantex Blog

Building student talent pipelines to cultivate critical skills development

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2024 - 08:08

CNS interns and co-op students are pictured at a 2023 seminar featuring Jahleel Hudson, Director of NNSA’s Office of Technology and Partnerships.
CNS interns and co-op students are pictured at a 2023 seminar featuring Jahleel Hudson, Director of NNSA’s Office of Technology and Partnerships.

Production Research, Development, and Integration (PRD&I) cultivates student talent pipelines that enhance skills essential for sustaining, stewarding, and modernizing Pantex and Y-12’s production capabilities.

Essential skills include multiphysics modeling, production process modeling, advanced manufacturing, materials science and development, electrical engineering, nuclear criticality safety, and emergency response.

“Y-12 relies on its Development organization for a ready cadre of subject matter experts that can be called upon to solve any plant problem. The Critical Skills Program brings in promising replacements to shore up our talent pipeline in not only our traditional areas of expertise, but also in new areas that are emerging such as automation and robotics, modeling, and advanced manufacturing,” said Randy Dziendziel, senior director of Development.

New talent pipelines for CNS include R&D fellowships, co-op students, and researchers-in-residence — a program that allows employees to conduct research at universities for extended periods of time. These initiatives provide a range of opportunities for students to work with Pantex and Y-12 technical staff on projects that develop expertise important for stewarding the sites’ production capabilities.

An example of multiple programs combining is how one Texas Tech student went from an undergraduate chemical engineering major to developing technical collaboration that creates new capability for the plants.

In 2022, Serée S. completed a Minority Serving Institution Partnerships Program–funded internship with Pantex Development. In 2023, she came to Y-12 to intern in Development. She has since been hired as a full-time Y-12 employee serving as a Researcher-in-Residence at Texas Tech University (TTU) for Y-12. She is working on her Ph.D. in computational chemical engineering and expects to graduate in 2026.

Serée dedicates 60% of her time to research and development efforts, focused around solving problems and supporting projects at Y-12. “I am passionate about bringing chemical engineering process modeling to CNS, Y-12, Pantex, and the NNSA as a whole because I believe it will be one of the biggest contributors in integrating the advantages of modern technological advances in engineering with our mission,” she said.

Her remaining energy is focused on serving as a liaison between TTU and CNS, a role she is equally as passionate about. This position serves to further enhance the talent and technology/workforce capability transfer pipeline between schools and industry and highlight viable and enticing career paths for students.

Rapid advancements in technology require an increase in the energy and workforce dedicated to those enhancements, making the need for this student and capability pipeline urgent. Without those resources, our current and future production capabilities needed to deliver the mission are inhibited.

To address this need, the Critical Skills program helps universities understand what skills are needed. This allows schools to prepare students who are highly specialized for the work at Pantex and Y-12. Through the program, CNS has developed relationships with 10 university departments across three universities and has funded 31 students on fellowships.

The Plant Directed Research and Development (PDRD) program builds off these relationships in an effort to recruit and retain people with the necessary skills to meet current and future production mission needs for Pantex and Y-12.

Accordingly, Y-12 PDRD Program Area Lead Mike Ellis and Pantex PDRD Program Manager Ed Graef developed a program that provided funding to directly hire 27 positions and build a talent pipeline. “The development of Pantex and Y-12’s technical bench strength is vitally important to supporting our nation’s nuclear deterrent mission,” said Ellis. “I am proud to enable this effort and grow our technical expertise for current and future mission space.”


I am mission success: Michael R.

Posted: Monday, April 8, 2024 - 09:16

Pantex custodian Michael R.
Take 5 minutes and learn about Pantex custodian Michael R. He’s only been here at Pantex for a few months, providing a fresh perspective of beginning a new career here with pride in the job. Whether it’s working directly on a weapon or helping co-workers keep their area clean, every job done successfully moves us one step further down the road to Mission Success. And as we discover with many fellow employees, Pantex may not have been on their occupational radar when they started out, but they’re extremely glad to be part of the team now.

“Working at Pantex was never on my radar when I was younger,” according to Michael. “In fact, I did not know about Pantex until I moved up here about 8 years ago. When I was younger, my goal was to become a math teacher. I was able to accomplish that goal but it only lasted for 3 years when I realized it wasn’t what I had envisioned.”

Michael went back into his original career of retail management, and like so many others was working his way up that corporate ladder when he was promoted and transferred to the Texas Panhandle.

“At that time, I was in management for a large retail company, but God had a different path set for me about 1 year ago, and well, the rest is history. I am a born-and- raised Texan and have always loved my country. I grew up in a time where you said the pledge of allegiance in school everyday. That instilled a pride for my country at an early age that has not wavered no matter how much times have changed. Knowing what we do out here at Pantex for our country gives me great pride in my work.

Being at Pantex only a few months allows him to offer a fresh perspective you only get when starting a new job, and he has some sound advice for anyone beginning a career here.

“For a new employee, have patience with the company. Things move a bit slower out here compared to other jobs. I would encourage anyone to remember where you came from before you were hired on out here, so you can reflect on how much a blessing it is to work here. “

Why are you mission success?
“My dad taught me to work hard, be honest, respect those around you, do your best if not more, and to work well with others. It wasn’t always easy, but having those expectations instilled in you at a young age has helped me become a part of mission success.”

What is the greatest strength you bring to your organization?
“I believe my greatest strength I bring is my work ethic. I believe what I do for Pantex will make it a better, cleaner, and more functional work place than before.”

As an employee, how do you want to be remembered?
“I am a people person and getting to know people on my job and seeing what their needs are allows me to take care of them. I know when they are taken cared of, that makes their day better which in turn allows them to be more productive for Pantex. All I want to be remembered for is that when I leave Pantex, it will look and function better than when I first arrived.”

What would your coworkers be most surprised to learn about you as you plan for retirement?
“I was a high school math teacher and coached UIL Math and Number Sense team. I enjoy reading, working in the garden and spending time with the grandchildren. Reading relaxes me, the garden allows me to take satisfaction in growing something, and I love my grandchildren. I think the one thing I am looking forward to when I retire is spending more time with my grandchildren. And, to travel to Europe and to experience the history there. Also, find a hobby. I have known several people who retire that get bored after awhile who didn’t have a hobby or two to make the transition a bit easier.”

Why is teamwork an important aspect when working at Pantex?
"We all have a job to do and accomplish here at Pantex. In reality, we cannot do it alone. Jobs can be stressful, burdensome, and sometimes we can get overwhelmed when accomplishing our task for the day, week, or longer. Relying on others to share the load, the burden, or even the stress allows us to concentrate more clearly, become less overworked and enjoy the sense of accomplishing something together. Having the knowledge that someone else is watching my back as my day or week progresses allows me to focus on the task at hand and relieves any stress related to the job.”

Pantex Fire Department response to wildfires reveals benefit of mutual aid

Posted: Tuesday, April 2, 2024 - 08:52

  Pantex firefighters respond to local wildfires under mutual aid agreement.
Pantex firefighters respond to local wildfires under mutual aid agreement.

Wildfires are an unpredictable threat that can occur with little warning and leave massive damage behind. To combat wildfires and other emergencies, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Pantex Fire Department (PXFD) have established vital mutual aid agreements with neighboring communities. During emergencies, these agreements effectively multiply and strategically direct resources to the affected fire departments, enabling them to surpass their own response capabilities.

PXFD is exceptionally fortunate to have a fully staffed, paid fire department capable of immediate deployment to assist our mutual aid partners at any hour, day or night—a luxury not afforded to the volunteers we support,” said PXFD Captain Joshua B. said. “These agreements not only enable our highly trained members to continually perfect their skills, but also facilitate their crucial support for the surrounding communities.”

The significance of these mutual aid agreements with Carson, Armstrong, Hutchinson, and Potter counties was evident in recent weeks amid the rise of wildfire activity. PXFD rapidly responded to a call for mutual aid to fight the Windy Deuce Fire—a significant fire north of Pantex—alongside the Smokehouse Creek Fire, which became the largest wildland fire in Texas history. This devastating fire consumed over a million acres, equivalent to nearly 2,000 square miles—an area surpassing the entirety of Delaware.

“Pantex employees live in each of these counties, adding personal significance to our emergency responses,” Captain B. said. “Numerous times, we’ve found ourselves extending aid to Pantexans’ family members, or even our own, either through medical assistance, or emergency response to car accidents or house fires.”

During the PXFD deployment to fight the Windy Deuce Fire, the firefighters found themselves patrolling one of the hardest-hit areas. Amid their duties, they even provided vital assistance to the parents of one of the Pantex fire captains; the parents faced evacuation and feared the loss of their home and livestock.

“The PXFD firefighters prevented the impinging fire from reaching their residence and contained the fire’s spread to the exterior of the home,” Captain B. said. “To this family and many others, PXFD and its members are a godsend.”

The “mutual” part of the agreement means both parties can receive aid. The Windy Deuce Fire got uncomfortably close to the Pantex site, but thanks to changes in weather conditions, the actions of the Pantex response team, and mutual aid partners from neighboring communities, the fire never reached the site boundary.

“We’re not just responders; the PXFD seeks to be an integral part of the communities surrounding Pantex,” said Captain B. “Whether it’s you, your family, or our neighbors in need, PXFD will respond when called upon.”

Forecast calls for severe weather safety

Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2024 - 12:53

Series of lighting detection photos of one storm that rolled across Pantex in August 2019 composited into one image.
Series of lighting detection photos of one storm that rolled across Pantex in August 2019 composited into one image.

Severe weather season is unpredictable, scary, and can be dangerous if not prepared. It is important to know what to do if severe weather hits. Y-12 and Pantex meteorological programs monitor weather conditions. Pantex Meteorologist Steve K. and Y-12 Meteorologist Matthew S. provided insight on how to prepare for spring and summer severe weather.

Understanding the importance between a tornado watch and warning is vital for the safety of yourself and others around you.

Steve said, “a tornado watch means that conditions are right for a storm to develop and produce a tornado. A tornado warning means that either a thunderstorm is rotating and could produce a tornado at any time, or a tornado has been sighted by law enforcement, a storm chaser, or some other trained storm spotter or meteorologist.”

In the case of a tornado warning, people should secure shelter. At home, people and pets should go into a basement or the most interior room of the house. Covering yourself with blankets and pillows will help protect you from debris should a tornado hit. Having access to a weather radio or electronic device where you can monitor weather reports is important.

There is always the possibility that a tornado could form while someone is driving.

“If you cannot drive away from the tornado, then get out of the car and get into a ditch or low place on the side of the road and cover your head,” said Steve. “Do not get underneath overpasses for protection as winds will actually be stronger underneath an overpass during a tornado as the air tries to squeeze itself into a smaller space under the overpass.”

Heavy rains and flash flooding are also common severe weather threats. The National Weather Service has the common saying, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown.” If you drive up to an area with cars already underwater, you are most likely going to face a similar fate if you try to drive into that water.

“Tires are filled with air and air does not like being below the water; it wants to be above it. So, with only 1-2 feet of flowing water, a car will start to float and become a really bad boat—with no steering mechanism to move it along,” said Steve.

Hail is also possible with thunderstorms.

Matthew said, “Hail is something we monitor for closely when severe storms roll through as it typically comes with more major weather outbreaks.” As with tornados, Steve emphasized that an underpass on a highway or interstate is the worst place to take shelter during a hail storm.

With rain and hail comes the potential for lightning. The sound of thunder can travel approximately 10 miles away from where a lightning strike occurs. Therefore, if you hear thunder, lightning is near and you should stay indoors.

“If you are outside and you feel your hair stand up or see the hair of someone else stand up, what you are witnessing (or feeling yourself) is electricity going up from the ground to meet static electricity coming down from the cloud,” Steve said. “You have enough time to crouch down like a catcher behind home plate as this will lift your heels off the ground to where only your toes are touching the ground. Put your hands over your ears and close your eyes. If you are struck by lightning in this position, the electricity will enter through your head or back and exit through your toes. If you are lying flat on the ground, then a greater amount of your body will suffer electrical burns from the lightning strike.”

When struck by lightning, people will often need immediate CPR due to the shock stopping the heart. Others may exhibit violent shaking and muscle spasms. Witnesses should call 911 immediately and start CPR, if necessary.

Pantex and Y-12 have meteorological towers and detection systems in addition to meteorologists monitoring weather at all times. Both meteorological programs collaborate with the National Weather Service and local stakeholders to keep up-to-date with the latest forecast.

Matthew said, “It is key to plan ahead and make sure coverage is there to protect materials, infrastructure, and most importantly, life safety.”

A lasting legacy treating Pantexans

Posted: Monday, March 25, 2024 - 10:23

After working as an Occupational Health Services nurse for approximately 52 years, Betty retired this year.
After working as an Occupational Health Services nurse for approximately 52 years, Betty retired this year.

Life looked a lot different for Betty S. at Pantex in 1972––she was one of three on-site occupational health nurses, she had to dress in all white, and she was not allowed to wear pants. However, one thing that did not change was her continuous dedication to treating patients.

“I liked the things I was doing to help increase the health and well-being of the people at Pantex. It was a journey that I’m glad I took,” Betty said.

That journey lasted almost 52 years. Betty was hired at Pantex straight out of nursing school and recently retired at the beginning of 2024.

“It was challenging, but my goal was to do the best I could. Life gives you ups and downs, but you just work with it and try to make sure every day counts,” Betty said.

Building 12-2 was where Betty started her career. It was the brand-new central health facility, and she worked in that building until 2018––when Occupational Health Services moved to the John C. Drummond Center. Each decade brought changes that Betty had to adapt to.

“In the late `70s, they decided we could wear pants, which was more comfortable than skirts, and then in the `80s, we could wear colored uniforms,” Betty said. “In the `90s, I became the head nurse.”

Betty remained diligent in being trained to take care of everything from yearly physicals to emergency situations. She was even on-site during the 1977 explosion.

“We heard this boom, and then just right after, we knew that it was a major explosion,” said Betty. “When the fire department notified us they were bringing in casualties, we got set up for that and took care of the patient they brought to us that was still alive, and we ended up stabilizing him and got him to the hospital.”

Throughout her time at Pantex, Betty is proud of what she did to reduce occupational injuries and raise safety awareness.

“We worked with safety to help people become aware of what they needed to do so they would not get hurt,” Betty said. “You’re doing a job, and you want to do it well, but you want to do it safely.”

When asked if she had any advice for current and future Pantexans, Betty emphasized the importance of continuing education, training, and having a questioning attitude.

Betty said, “You are already trained for what you know how to do. When something comes along that you do not understand, ask for help.”