Chattanooga, TN — Chattanooga State Community College engineering technology student, Alex Woods, was recently named one of the first recipients of the Kent Hamlin Memorial Scholarship awarded by the American Nuclear Society (ANS). The ANS plays an important role in helping students complete their post-high school education and prepare for careers in nuclear science and technology (NS&T). Only two scholarships of $1,000 each were awarded in the United States.
In addition, Woods received an award of approximately $1,800 from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for spring semester 2013. The NRC scholarship “provides funding to support nuclear science, engineering, and related disciplines to develop a workforce capable of supporting the design, construction, operation, and regulation of nuclear facilities and the safe handling of nuclear materials,” according to its web site. As a scholarship recipient, Woods is required to work for six months in a nuclear-related field for each of the full or partial-year academic scholarships he receives from the NRC.
However, the path to a career in nuclear power was not a direct one. In 1994, Woods graduated from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem. He spent the next seven years working in professional theater in and around New York City. “It’s ironic,” he chuckled, “because I was the first ever recipient of the Lucille Lortel Debut Award in Connecticut for my role in a play called, ‘Moonshadow’.”
Then destiny called, when his father’s heart surgery brought him home to Athens, TN, and work in the family business. Woods’ parents, a biologist and a botanist, developed a business from their research with bamboo and other, similar woody grasses. They patented a technology for the micro-propagation of bamboos in tissue culture. “My father recovered quickly and fully from his surgery, and I spent the next eight years or so traveling to various parts of the world working with their business,” said Woods. “That’s when I really learned about the production of energy, which led me to Chattanooga State and the nuclear curriculum just after the economy went into recession.”
While researching various methods of energy production, largely due to the “green” direction his parents’ business was moving toward, he began to gain an understanding of nuclear energy and its applications. According to Woods, “Many of my misconceptions concerning this vital resource, which are shared by an large percentage of the general public, were quickly dispelled. And the more I learned, the more interested in nuclear energy I became.” Woods is committed to sharing what he has learned during his study of health physics. He is helping to develop a free public education/outreach event on campus in April that will address some typical misunderstandings about radiation and the nuclear industry.
Woods, who was thrilled to receive both scholarships, was elected as the first president of Chattanooga State’s newly established charter chapter of the American Nuclear Society. Along with maintaining an impressive 4.0 GPA, he volunteers at Siskin Children’s Institute and is active with many social and educational club functions. After graduation in May, he will take part in a six-month, paid internship at each of TVA’s nuclear power facilities. When he has enough experience under his belt, he intends to pass the National Registry of Radiation Protection Technicians (NRRPT) exam, and ultimately become a certified health physicist. “The nature of work in health physics appealed to me immensely, and grasping a new understanding of this energy, which is present all around us, fascinated me,” Woods explained.
A single father of a three year old son, whom he describes as “perfect in every way and truly the light of my life,” Woods was also drawn to his new career because of the possibility that he might live and work in an area where he had roots. “Given that my family is here and that I was born and raised in the area, obviously the thought of continuing to live in Tennessee is very appealing. However, opportunities may perhaps call me elsewhere, so I’ll have to see what the future holds.”
The ANS awards more than 20 scholarships named after pioneers and leaders in NS&T, and other general scholarships, annually to students with outstanding academic credentials. The Kent Hamlin Memorial Scholarship is awarded to only two, two-year associate degree candidates who are participating in the U.S. nuclear power industry’s Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program (NUCP) and who demonstrate an interest in, as well as a commitment to, a career in the industry. “I did not have the pleasure of knowing Mr. Hamlin, but many completely unrelated sources within the industry have expressed to me how well liked he was by all those who knew him, and what a terrific man he was, in every regard. That’s why I try to work very hard in my position with the ANS, in an effort to reflect the gratitude I feel for the opportunities it has afforded me,” he added.