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USA Energy: Oak Ridge Contractor Ramps Up Internship Opportunities


Fresh out of the Navy, Ronald Randazzo wanted to go somewhere new and return to school with educational assistance provided by the GI Bill.

Former Navy pals suggested he attend the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Randazzo jumped at the opportunity to study at one of the nation’s top nuclear engineering programs in close proximity to DOE’s Oak Ridge site.

Recognizing the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted in-person internships for many students over the past two summers, EM Oak Ridge cleanup contractor UCOR expanded its internship program this year to provide unique learning opportunities for students like Randazzo. The company has added 29 students from 12 schools across the nation to its workforce for the summer.

UCOR’s internship program this year features partnerships with more schools and brings in both traditional and nontraditional students. It also draws from various DOE programs, such as the Mentorship for Environmental Scholars program, an internship that provides exposure research in environmental science, environmental justice and environmental policy to underrepresented college students.

“Serving in the Navy taught me that my ability to learn directly affected how I could do my job and keep those who now depend on me, like I did them, safe,” Randazzo said. “That experience helped me gain improved skills to pursue a career in nuclear engineering that I never would have thought possible 10 years ago.”

Several nontraditional students — those who enroll in higher learning one or more years after graduating high school or who attend college on a part-time basis — have joined the UCOR intern program this year.

Nontraditional student Jacob Hammonds, a Knoxville native who grew up familiar with the cleanup work in Oak Ridge, feels he is on the right track after securing his first internship with UCOR. With the goal of remaining in the area, he said he appreciates the experience to learn the theoretical side of engineering and explore things he’s not yet learned about in school.

Frederic Harris, a rising senior in the University of Tennessee’s nuclear decommissioning minor degree program, was exploring options for his first internship when he learned about UCOR’s program from a classmate who interned with the contractor last summer. Now Harris supports waste management operations at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

With an interest in decommissioning and cleanup work, Terra Holly has begun her first internship in the DOE complex this summer at Oak Ridge. Holly is a student in the University of Tennessee nuclear decommissioning minor degree program, and her internship allows her to help calibrate special devices that read dosimeters, which measure exposure to radiation.

“It is nice to be in an internship program where the company genuinely cares about what the student wants, not just what the student can do for the company,” Holly said. “Even just three weeks into the program, I can say this is the best internship I’ve had.”

UCOR also expanded its university partnerships for internships this year to include Florida International University, where Jeff Nativdad is pursuing his master’s degree in mechanical engineering. A member of the DOE Fellowship Program, Nativdad has completed research assistant stints and two internships at Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS), where he worked on quality verification of robots and use of the robots to patrol tank farms for radiation mapping. WRPS is the EM Office of River Protection tank operations contractor at the Hanford Site.

Looking to expand beyond his robotics work, Nativdad is now gaining experience in other areas of cleanup at Oak Ridge that align with what he wants to pursue after graduation.

Another new university partnership — with Benedict College in South Carolina — led to environmental engineering student Dari Gabriel interning at Oak Ridge. Having learned about UCOR during the company’s visit to the Benedict College campus in February, Gabriel pursued an internship that would allow her to gain experience in the various methods of environmental cleanup at Oak Ridge. With specific interest in soil and groundwater remediation, Gabriel is interning in environmental stewardship, applying skills she learned in school to solve real world challenges.

UCOR’s summer internship program pairs college students with mentors in their respective departments. Several participants have pursued careers in environmental cleanup in Oak Ridge after completing their internships.

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