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NNSA Graduate Fellowship Program: Producing the Next Generation of Nuclear Security Leaders

NNSA Principal Deputy Administrator Madelyn Creedon, Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington, and Associate Administrator for Management and Budget Randall Hendrickson with 2016 NNSA Graduate Fellows.

Heidi Hamling, program manager at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, spoke to the fellows.This month 38 graduate students celebrated the completion of their fellowships through the NNSA Graduate Fellowship Program (NGFP), gaining the valuable experience and perspective they’ll use for their future in the nuclear security enterprise.

Every year NGFP recruits and develops graduate-level students for a career in nuclear and national security. Fellows are highly qualified individuals with diverse academic backgrounds who support NNSA in yearlong assignments across program offices and field sites nationwide.

Nearly half of this year’s NGFP class worked in direct support of NNSA’s defense nuclear nonproliferation mission.

“I particularly enjoyed contributing to national and international security and counterterrorism measures through the work of my department,” said Elizabeth Lostracco, a fellow in the nonproliferation office.

NNSA Assistant Deputy for Research Development Testing and Evaluation for Military Application Colonel Thomas Summers, USAF, with 2016 NNSA Fellow Daniel Custead from the Office of Defense Programs Delivery System.Eight fellows in the NGFP class of 2016 worked within NNSA’s Defense Programs, with the mission of ensuring the nation sustains a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent. Working in NNSA’s office of major modernization programs, fellow Daniel Custead graduated with a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from Texas A&M University in 2015, and headed straight for NNSA.

“I didn’t know a lot about it,” Custead said. “I didn’t know exactly what I was going to be doing. But I am so glad I did the fellowship.”

The NGFP experiences place fellows in roles at the forefront of NNSA’s missions—like helping to organize the 2016 U.S. and China Peaceful uses of Nuclear Technology Joint Coordinating Committee, working toward downblending highly enriched uranium in Indonesia as announced at the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, presenting training modules at international events, and creating and editing technical papers and reports to share expertise across the enterprise.

“When most people think about an internship, they think of a time period to learn, but not to help the organization,” Custead said. “The year with NGFP gave me time to learn and also become productive and contribute. They’ve incorporated me into lots of activities to let me see the broad picture. Very few fellowships offer these kinds of opportunities.”

Besides polishing the fellows’ technical and diplomatic leadership skills, extensive collaboration provides a unique opportunity for meeting leading national security professionals and experts.

“My academic and professional focus has always been on diplomacy and security, and it was great meeting with technical experts who approach problems from a different perspective and who are on the cutting edge of their technical fields,” nonproliferation fellow Kaitlin Oujo said.

Fellows of the graduating class of 2016, like past alumni, will transition into careers in nuclear security, often in the same lines of work as their fellowships; six out of the eight in Defense Programs will continue there. NGFP is a resource not only for new professionals to gain experience, but also for NNSA to recruit and retain future experts and leaders for its critical national security missions.

“I was offered a position to work at NNSA in Defense Programs now that the fellowship is over,” Custead said. “I would suggest this fellowship to nuclear engineers and to those who are interested in a policy-oriented career. This is one of the premier fellowships to get your foot in the door.”

A fellow made a special NNSA coin for each of his classmates.Candidates often connect with the program at their universities during their graduate studies through presentations by recruiters and information sessions led by former fellows.

“This is literally the only fellowship I applied for,” Custead said. “The program enabled me to get a really good survey of NNSA’s most important work in just one year.”

The NGFP is managed through NNSA’s Office of Management and Budget and administered by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The fellows completing the program this summer will join more than 300 NGFP alumni who have served since the program’s inception in 1995. Learn more about the fellowship and application process on the NGFP web page.

NNSA Associate Administrator for Management and Budget, Randall Hendrickson

NNSA Assistant Deputy for Research Development Testing and Evaluation for Military Application, Col. Thomas Summers, USAF.