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NMJC, Lockheed Martin, TESC Collaborate in Nuclear Energy Training

6/27/2011 12:35:40 a.m. - Hobbs, NM. When Phillip Roybal, NMJC's Program Manager for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, received a call last year from "an inquisitive student" in Florida about enrolling in the college's nuclear energy technology program, he never imagined where that one phone conversation might lead.

It wasn't until the end of the semester that Roybal discovered that the "student" was actually Dr. Michael Platt, a Human Performance Engineer with Lockheed Martin Global Training and Logistics and former Air Force Special Operations agent, whose considerable background in nuclear energy training had ultimately led him to NMJC.

Applyingas "just an ordinary online student," the Department-of-Defense-trained Platt was actually on a fact-finding mission to determine if there was a two-year college that could meet his and Lockheed Martin's specific criteria for bringing training expertise to the civilian nuclear workforce. With over 50% of the civilian nuclear workforce nearing retirement age, Lockheed is aggressively seeking waysto bridge the gap between academia and real world needs in the nuclear industry. According to Platt, replacing the workforce in an industry where safety is paramount was a challenge that Lockheed Martin was actively seeking to meet -- but only with the right players. It had been determined that Thomas Edison State College in Trenton, New Jersey, would be the ideal bachelor-level provider, but the immediate conceconcern was finding a quality, affordable two-year program that could provide the "fundamentals" of online nuclear energy training.

"I discovered a number of schools across the nation that offer nuclear training," he said, "but only three ultimately met the criteria we were looking for, such as curriculum, location and program history, and a specific area of specialty in nuclear education." While Platt was unfamiliar with NMJC, he knew New Mexico very well due to the fact that Lockheed Martin currently operates Sandia Lab on behalf of the Departmentof Energy. Pretending to be a typical, interested student, he placed a call to Phillip Roybal, the contact person listed on the website, and enrolled in two online nuclear energy courses -- all while carefully omitting his credentials and affiliation with Lockheed Martin.

Upon completion of the courses at the end of the semester, Platt made his final determination, which was based on a number of factors. He considered the ease with which an online student could enroll, reflected on the friendliness and professionalism of the personnel at NMJC, and then made an assessment of the entire experience from beginning to end based on a student's perspective. He also took into considerationthe fact that NMJC's program used Department of Energy source materials, which was certainly "a big plus." Most importantly, though, when Platt went through the course as a student, he was struck with the genuine concern of NMJC's staff -- and especially the academic instructor -- for the performance of their students after graduation. "In the NMJC program, students are lealearning the necessary fundamentals to set them apart from others in the industry," he said. That was a vital ingredient to the success of the collaboration that Lockheed Martin sought. "With every conversation," he said, "it just became more and more obvious that New Mexico Junior College was part of the solution."

Acting on Platt's recommendation, Lockheed, NMJC, and Thomas Edison State College began a series of discussions and visits which recently led to the two schools entering into a formal agreement that allows NMJC students with associate degrees in energy technology to transfer to TESC with all credits accepted toward a bachelor or master degree in energy technology.Lockheedwill also provide technology and expertise to NMJC and TESC that otherwise might not be available to the schools, such as 3-D virtual learning environments. Roybal said Lockheed could, for instance, build a 3-D simulation of a control room in a uranium enrichment plant for students to learn in, although there are numerous possibilities."

We try to work with academic institutions . . . who have great educational programs in place," Platt said. "I can easily see where graduates from the New Mexico Junior College nuclear program would be in a much better standing in the nuclear industry than someone who has not. At a technician level, they would be going to the head of the line."

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