During a recent road closure on the Hanford Site, Florida International University students, from left, Jeff Natividad, Joel Adams, and Thi Tran, test a radiation mapping robot outside a tank farm. The students are part of a unique internship program between EM and the university.
During a recent road closure on the Hanford Site, Florida International University students, from left, Jeff Natividad, Joel Adams, and Thi Tran, test a radiation mapping robot outside a tank farm.

RICHLAND, Wash. – A group of students from Florida International University (FIU) will have quite a story to tell when asked to share what they did this summer.

As part of a fellowship program between EM and FIU, the students participated in a summer internship with Hanford Site Office of River Protection tank operations contractor Washington River Protection Solutions (WRPS).

The Science and Technology Workforce Development Program is designed to develop, train, and mentor a pool of minority science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students as the next generation of leaders for DOE.

“The tasks we’re given during our time here allow me to apply what I learned in the classroom,” said Jeff Natividad, who took part in the internship program at WRPS for a second summer in a row.

He and fellow FIU interns Thi Tran and Joel Adams spent time at Hanford programming a robot called The Canary. The device can travel through suspected contaminated areas to provide 3D maps of the terrain that includes radiological measurements of the area.

“We worked on refreshing its robot operating system, then added two more onboard computers to support additional sensors, redesigned the power system, and added three cameras,” Natividad said. “We also integrated the GPS and a new network system. It’s been a busy summer.”

Florida International University interns, from left, Thi Tran, Jeff Natividad, and Joel Adams, meet with Nicole Nelson-Jean, EM Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Field Operations, far right, during her visit to the Hanford Site in June 2021
Florida International University interns, from left, Thi Tran, Jeff Natividad, and Joel Adams, meet with Nicole Nelson-Jean, EM Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Field Operations, far right, during her visit to the Hanford Site.

Students taking part in the fellowship program focus on one of four major research areas: tanks and high-level waste; deactivation and decommissioning; soil and groundwater; and artificial intelligence and machine learning, and information technology.

“This program allows us to tap into top talent with relative experience and education in the waste management sector,” said Alex Pappas, a WRPS technology management and field solutions scientist who serves as a mentor for the students. “Our frequent interaction allows us to build our knowledge depth and prepare the next generation of technical leaders for the Hanford Site.”

Since 2007, more than 190 FIU students have participated in the program, and many of them are the first generation in their family to attend college.

“This gives them the opportunity to participate in research that a lot of undergrads don’t get the chance to do. The program also provides an opportunity for master’s and doctorate students to develop their theses and dissertation research respectively,” said Leonel Lagos, principal investigator for the DOE/FIU cooperative agreement and director of research at FIU’s Applied Research Center. “They come out of the program better prepared, and with a better understanding of the industry.”

Lagos said by the time most of the graduates complete the program, they have job offers waiting for them to begin careers with DOE, its contractors, or private STEM-related industry.

“We appreciate the support of DOE and the Office of Environmental Management,” Lagos added. “These students have a competitive edge because of the connection they make with the scientists and engineers in the field, and we couldn’t run this program without the support of the DOE and contractors like WRPS.”