Creating Community

Author: William Meiners
New grad student organization formed

For many, the graduate school experience is never about winter sledding down Slayter Hill, keeping up with men’s and women’s Boilermaker basketball, or expanding on glass-raising social circles. Instead, the prototypical grad students may find themselves immersed in a few years of intense study and lab work, only coming up for air during fall, winter, and spring breaks. A new graduate student group within the School of Nuclear Engineering, however, is hoping to at least eliminate some of that sense of isolation.


Lenka Kollar and Matt Fields helped create the Nuclear Engineering Graduate Organization in the fall. [Photo by Vincent Walter]

In fall 2009, the Nuclear Engineering Graduate Organization (NEGO) took shape, held callout meetings, and elected officers for the first such organization of its kind in the school’s history. Proposed by Lenka Kollar and Matt Fields, two recent grads (both BSNE ’09) looking to earn master’s degrees at Purdue, NEGO was established to be both a social and a scholarly organization.

“Our school is unique in that we have so many different research disciplines that aren’t necessarily interconnected,” says Fields, the NEGO president. “A lot of the professors will have their own research groups, and there’s not much chance to spend time with your colleagues outside the same four people you see in the lab every day. We really wanted to foster a sense of community within our small school with such diverse interests.”

For Kollar, who is serving as the organization’s first treasurer, the opportunity to give admit- ted graduate students the inside story on the various programs is a bonus. “Our school does a little bit of this, but we wanted to expand on that and make it more of a student-to-student talk,” she says.

Barbecues, study breaks, and other family-style social events will help bring the 50-plus graduate students from the school together. But there’s also a push for more professional development. “In our discipline especially, being so heavily regulated, professional licensure and membership are important,” Fields says. “We need to encourage students to be respectful of that and to take advantage of Purdue’s reputation.”

NEGO could even help students find the common ground in the varied fields under the nuclear umbrella, such as fusion, materials, thermal hydraulics, neutronics, and laser research. Kollar decided to stay at Purdue to continue work in the area of nuclear waste storage with her advisor, Audeen Fentiman, professor of nuclear engineering and associate dean of graduate education and interdisciplinary programs. As a possible PhD and work for a government agency (such as the Department of Energy) loom in her future, Kollar knows the enhanced community experience of grad school could bode well for her future, as well as the future of her colleagues.

Like all nuclear engineering students, both undergrads and graduates, Kollar and Fields often find themselves becoming spokespersons for an industry. For Fields, now working in Ahmed Hassanein’s lab (see cover story on page 4), those discussions, along with the times, are changing. “A lot of the misconceptions are beginning to be eroded. Our generation hasn’t really grown up being scared of nuclear power,” says Fields of his post-Chernobyl colleagues. “A lot of young people are very pro-nuclear. They’re very much interested in it from a clean energy and an industrial standpoint. For us, it’s a matter of furthering that understanding.”

Kollar concurs, saying she “sticks to the facts” when it comes to the world of nuclear engineering.

And now that NEGO is a fact of life for nuclear engineering grad students, maybe even half a hundred smart people can get together for some good clean fun.