- Nuclear & Particle Physics
- Isotope Research & Production
- RIKEN BNL Research Center
Developing the Next-Generation of Radiation Safety Professionals
Queensborough Community College and Brookhaven Lab win DOE grant to expand the nuclear workforce
September 29, 2023
Sharon Lall-Ramnarine (front) meets with (left to right) Susan Pepper, Chris Pickett, Paul Sideris, Nicole Zmich, and Jasmine Hatcher-Lamarre at the Environment, Biology, Nuclear Science & Nonproliferation (EBNN) directorate at Brookhaven Lab.
UPTON, NY—To run any radiological facility, safety must be everyone’s highest priority. Having a team of specialists trained in radiation protection is essential to any work being done with radioactive materials or equipment. This field, however, is a highly specialized one, and sometimes it can be difficult to fill these roles. To meet this challenge, experts at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Brookhaven National Laboratory and Queensborough Community College (QCC) have proposed a unique, hands-on certificate program to train future radiation protection professionals. This project is now being funded through the Developing Next Generation Radiation Safety Professionals (DNGRSP) grant awarded by the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Minority Serving Institution Partnership Program (MSIPP).
The accredited radiation protection certificate program will provide students with the skills and training necessary to become a technician that supports radiation protection, nuclear safety, and nuclear medicine. The hands-on program was designed by active professionals that based the curriculum on real-world experience. It will give students valuable field training through Brookhaven Lab.
“Being a two-year college, we don't get to teach advanced subject areas and specialized topics like this,” explained Sharon Lall-Ramnarine, a chemistry professor at QCC and director of this project. “Radiation safety is a field that so many students, and even college faculty and staff, are not currently aware of. People can sometimes be scared off just by just hearing the word radiation, but it’s a field that gives people the tools they need to implement a safe environment and there are several career paths and opportunities along the way. We’re excited to tell students that they're engaging in a program, a degree program, that will result in job placement.”
QCC—A College in the World’s Borough
QCC is located in Queens County, New York City, which is also known as “the world’s borough” due to it being the most diverse county in the country. With no racial or ethnic group holding a majority of the population, Queens is a beautiful patchwork of cultures, languages, beliefs, and backgrounds. QCC’s demographics reflect the rich diversity of the county it serves, with students originating from more than 100 different birth countries and speaking more than 60 languages! QCC’s mission is to provide students with affordable, high-quality education and give them the tools to be successful in today’s workforce. Launching this program helps QCC and Brookhaven build the next generation of radiation safety professionals while promoting their shared values of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
Students at QCC enrolled in an associate in science degree are eligible to enroll in this certificate program as they are pursuing their current coursework. They receive a $600 stipend to subsidize their tuition and textbook costs. They also have the opportunity to apply for a summer internship at the Lab that will provide an additional $6,500 stipend. The program includes two courses in radiation safety that offer hands-on training at the Laboratory. At the end, Brookhaven employees will assist graduates with job placement, not just within the Lab but across all DOE facilities.
Lall-Ramnarine has always been a strong advocate for students, particularly those underrepresented in scientific fields. She frequently brings students to the Lab through internships and the Visiting Faculty Program (VFP), finding them open positions to advance their career.
“Even when I was a graduate student, I brought a couple of Queens College undergraduates I was co-mentoring to Brookhaven Lab every time I visited,” recalled Lall-Ramnarine. “They were always excited about working at the Lab, and chemist James Wishart was always a great mentor to them and myself. I joined the faculty at QCC in the spring of 2004. I continued to send Jim students to continue our collaboration even when I could not visit BNL myself. Jim and I, at the time, started a new line of ionic liquids research at the Lab, which he credits for the formation of the Molten Salts in Extreme Environments (MSEE) Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC), where he is the director.”
Lall-Ramnarine leads the project on the QCC side with co-director Paul Sideris, a fellow chemistry professor. As a Stony Brook University graduate, Sideris had several opportunities to visit the Lab while he worked on his doctorate.
“The fact that we had a national lab relatively close to the college was such an incredible resource,” recalled Sideris. “When I was a graduate student, it was very common for research groups to take their students to Brookhaven. It brought these courses to life and exposed students to the unique instrumentation and facilities housed there. Frankly, I’ve always wanted to do the same thing for our students, but it was difficult to find a program that allows us to do this. When Sharon told me about this project, I thought that it was the perfect opportunity to build a relationship between QCC and Brookhaven. I’m very excited to be a part of it.”
Brookhaven’s office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) was instrumental in making this partnership happen and receiving this grant. Being able to leverage their long-standing relationship with QCC and other partners, the two institutions were able to work together to show that they can fill an immense need in nuclear safety while helping a talented group of diverse students explore a specialized field with in-demand career opportunities.
Working Together to Fill in the Gaps
To help implement the program on Brookhaven’s end, QCC teamed up with several specialists in different areas of radiation safety. Guiseppe Camarda, a scientist who specialized in the research and development of radiation detectors in the Nonproliferation and National Security Department (NNS), is lending his expertise as the principal investigator. Assisting him are Susan Pepper, chair of the NNS department, Sidra Zia, an associate staff engineer at the NNS department, and consultant Chris Pickett of SpectraTech, Inc. The team will grow to include a number of mentors who will be involved in the program when it begins.
“Recently, there has been a scarcity of people majoring in health physics, the science of radiation protection,” said Pepper. “It could just be the lack of awareness, and we hope to address that with this initiative. This project aims to bridge that gap while also providing opportunities for underrepresented students.”
One of the key aspects of this program is that students will be learning these skills in a DOE national laboratory from the staff that keep these facilities safe and running.
“It will be beneficial for the Laboratory to have homegrown technicians with skills that are more applicable to DOE environments,” said Nate Foster, manager of Brookhaven Lab’s Radiological Control Division. “Being able to train and mentor these radiation safety technicians and professionals from the ground up and tailor course content to fit these real-world needs is beneficial to both the students and the employers they will lend their expertise to.”
Owing to Lall-Ramnarine’s efforts, QCC and Brookhaven Lab have had a long history of collaboration dating back to 2005. In that time, Brookhaven has hosted over three dozen QCC students co-mentored by Lall-Ramnarine and Wishart for 60 10-week internships in chemistry, awarding them stipends between $4,000 and $7,000. 90% of the students were women or underrepresented minorities. During this time, these students were co-authors on 18 publications with Lall-Ramnarine and Wishart.
Two QCC graduates who were introduced through internships and educational programs continue to grow successful full-time careers at the Lab. Jasmine Hatcher-Lamarre is now a staff scientist in the Medical Isotope Research and Production group and Nicole Zmich is a senior educational programs representative in the Office of Educational Programs.
As this program launches and grows, it will continue to build on the mutually beneficial relationship Brookhaven and QCC have established, provide important jobs to students, and diversify an important sector of the workforce.
Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit science.energy.gov.
2023-21432 | INT/EXT | Newsroom