UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Westinghouse Electric Company and the nuclear engineering program at Penn State have been collaborating for many years to offer nuclear engineering undergraduate students a distinctive and extremely valuable senior capstone research experience.
In this core design class, Westinghouse engineers work directly with student teams to teach the students how to optimize nuclear reactor core performance. The teams use industry computer codes to analyze the performance of a reactor and create a unique arrangement of fuel rods within the reactor core to extract the power in the most efficient manner.
“We value this collaboration very much because it provides a great opportunity for our students to work with industry-relevant problems and get a leg up on hiring,” said Arthur Motta, professor and chair of the nuclear engineering program. “It’s a distinguishing feature of our program and connects us to the nuclear power industry.”
Justin Watson, assistant professor of nuclear engineering, teaches the core design section of the capstone design course, but Westinghouse engineers, many of whom are Penn State alumni, provide a great boost to the course.
Students have regular meetings with Westinghouse engineers to receive one-on-one instruction and present their work, as if they were professionals in the field.
“The Westinghouse mentors challenge us to think. They want us to look at this project as if we were actually designing for the company,” said Ramon Cruz, a nuclear engineering graduate student who took the course in 2014.
The Penn State—Westinghouse collaboration was conceived by Lawrence Hochreiter, a Westinghouse senior engineer who joined Penn State as a nuclear engineering professor in 1997. Now between 40 and 50 students, about half of the nuclear engineering graduating class, take the core design capstone class with Westinghouse each year.
Westinghouse has recruited numerous outstanding students from the program, many who are still working there today and who come back as mentors for the program.
For Westinghouse, the strong relationship with Penn State is an excellent opportunity for new engineers to develop communication, presentation and leadership skills. It also gives the employees an opportunity to manage a large commitment alongside a regular workload and to strengthen their technical knowledge in order to teach it.
“The Penn State—Westinghouse core design program is mutually beneficial,” said Andrew Sheaffer, Westinghouse senior engineer, core engineering, and 2011 Penn State alumnus. “The students get the opportunity to apply their knowledge to a real-life scenario and we, as mentors, get the chance to sharpen our technical training skills. Being a Westinghouse mentor is especially rewarding for me, as I was once a student in this class.”
Westinghouse provides student teams with models representative of real nuclear reactor cores and current industry computer codes. Students use the information to test fuel arrangements and assemble and ideal loading pattern based on the constraints of the reactor they are given. The work is typical of a nuclear engineer starting in industry, so when these students graduate, they are prepared to immediately start working for an engineering company on core design.
“This class widens your perspective of the reactor system,” said Ishita Trivedi, a nuclear engineering graduate student who took the course in 2015. “You have to employ everything you’ve learned during your undergraduate studies at once, so you see the big picture instead of looking at everything separately.“
“The feedback we get from students is overwhelmingly positive. This class is a tremendous opportunity for the nuclear engineering majors at Penn State to get exposure to working on reactor design projects, meeting realistic safety and economic requirements, and communicating with customers,” said Sheaffer.
Westinghouse Electric Company provides a wide range of nuclear power plant products and services to utilities throughout the world, including advanced nuclear plant designs, nuclear fuel, service and maintenance, and instrumentation and control systems.