For the third installment of NNSA’s Women in Defense Programs series, meet Katie Duncan. This Tennessee grad’s passion for World War II history led to her role at NNSA as a uranium expert supporting our nuclear stockpile, from the upcoming Uranium Processing Facility to reestablishing depleted uranium manufacturing.
How do you support NNSA?
I am a Federal Program Manager in Defense Programs’ Office of Secondary Stage Production Modernization. We are responsible for executing NNSA’s strategy to re-establish depleted uranium manufacturing processes, required for projected needs in the nuclear weapons mission.
How did you become interested in the field you are in? How did you end up on this career path to this point?
Prior to my senior year at the University of Tennessee, I interned in the Supply Chain Management Department at United Cleanup Oak Ridge in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In support of the DOE Office of Environmental Management’s mission, UCOR led the effort to deactivate and decommission the K25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant. Gaseous diffusion was one of the three isotope separation processes that provided uranium-235 for Little Boy, the Hiroshima weapon.
I have always been fascinated with WWII history, specifically with the Manhattan Project’s strong ties to East Tennessee. I met wonderful colleagues and traveled to conferences and events on behalf of UCOR. I remember the UCOR President stating, “Your internship has the potential to shape your career if you’ll allow it.”
Following graduation, I worked on procurement for the Y-12 National Security Complex on the Uranium Processing Facility, NNSA’s largest design and construction project. UPF will provide new floor space and consist of processing capabilities for enriched uranium casting, oxide production, and salvage and accountability operations.
I accepted a service support contractor position with NNSA in March 2020, providing supply chain and project management expertise to execute an overarching modernization strategy for enriched uranium capabilities and infrastructure needed to support all three of NNSA’s major missions.
Finally, I became a federal employee in May 2022. As a Program Manager, I am responsible for evaluating and advising current depleted uranium manufacturing capabilities and infrastructure to meet future nuclear weapon stockpile requirements.
What’s one of your favorite things about working at NNSA?
Every public service federal employee takes an oath of office on the first day of employment. One of my favorite lines from the oath is to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic.” That line in particular instills me with a sense of duty that I take very seriously. Our scope of work at NNSA is essential and of the utmost importance. I am humbled and privileged to work for an organization on such challenging scope that secures our nation’s future.
Within the Office of Defense Programs, there are many women in leadership positions setting the tone and expectations for excellence and inclusion. I greatly appreciate the ongoing efforts to change the culture of our workforce.
What are the characteristics of the best teams that you have been on?
In a recent program review, my team received a compliment from Los Alamos National Laboratory leadership for the “unprecedented energy” we exhibit. My colleagues are ambitious, inspiring, and fascinating. We come from various backgrounds and leverage our strengths to accomplish our goals. Collaborative, inclusive, and diverse teams breed success.
What advice would you give someone who wants to do what you do for NNSA?
I recently heard a quote by Marie Colvin that strongly resonates with me: “Be passionate and be involved in what you believe in, and do it as thoroughly and honestly and fearlessly as you can.”
My advice would be to be open to every opportunity to learn. Join the extracurricular groups, attend the networking events, express interest in leading stretch assignments, and invest in a mentor you admire. By dreaming the biggest of dreams and by working as thoroughly, honestly, and fearlessly as you can, doors to fantastic opportunities will open for you.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I love exploring the rich history of our nation’s capital with its museums and monuments, and exploring on my travels as well – I recently went to Alaska for the first time. I’m also a huge foodie, and love trying both new recipes and new restaurants. I enjoy planning social events for our office, and am involved with the University of Tennessee’s Alumni Chapter here in Washington D.C.