Knowledge on Display

Students had the opportunity to interact directly with Beaver Valley staff who asked detailed questions and provided professional insight.

April 25, 2019

On Thursday, April 11, high school students from Pennsylvania’s Blackhawk and Mohawk school districts returned to Beaver Valley. It was their second visit as part of the Student Powered Solutions (SPS) initiative, a program created by the Consortium for Public Education, a nonprofit organization that seeks to supplement the way students learn. The students were on site to present STEM projects designed and completed as a follow-up to their first site visit in early March.

The visits were coordinated by Katie Bench, nuclear engineer, who represents the Beaver Valley chapter of the North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NAYGN). “It’s encouraging to see these students, not much younger than many of us in NAYGN, taking an interest in nuclear energy.”

The collection of juniors and seniors arrived at 10 a.m., headed to the site auditorium, and set up their presentations, ranging from laptop displays to scaled sculptures, 3-D printing process models and visual displays. For the next two hours, Beaver Valley staff, at all levels including senior management, filtered into the space to review the presentations, interact with students and provide supplemental information to the project teams.

Beaver Valley Site Vice President Rich Bologna said this is one of the best opportunities for young people to learn about nuclear generation. “When we speak face-to-face with these students, it steers the conversation from a theoretical project to reality, and it helps us personalize what we do every day. We all really enjoy it.”

Students were asked to ponder a hypothetical situation in which an energy company was considering building a nuclear power plant near a community. Topics mostly were focused on examining the pros and cons of nuclear energy.

“There are downsides with everything,” said Autumn Schiemer, a junior at Blackhawk. “With nuclear, though, there are some distinct advantages like the 90-plus percent capacity factor, which you don’t get with other fuel sources.” Autumn’s presentation also touched on the emission-free nature of nuclear power.

Emma Marnik and Lynnell Fry, juniors at Blackhawk, built a model of a nuclear plant using every day materials. The team pointed out the environmentally friendly nature of nuclear generation.

One team highlighted safety management. Mohawk seniors Mike Veon and Shane Cardella outlined possible situations on the site that could present safety hazards to workers on a daily basis.

“This is an industrial site,” said Mike. “There are risks for workers like tools not being secured or equipment that could cause tripping. We broke down what potential hazards workers might face, and then different ways to mitigate them.”

“This is such a rewarding effort in many ways,” said Laurie Monteleone, a physics teacher with Mohawk. “The kids are pushed to employ critical thinking by forming an opinion and then researching the facts in order to support their position.”

The visits and subsequent project displays are an annual event at the power station. According to SPS Program Director Sarah Brooks, the program is thrilled with site employees’ willingness to host and support students each year. “Everyone here has been helpful and open, and their rapport with the students helps keep the kids engaged.”

Rich Bologna listens as Mohawk senior Mike Veon walks through his ideas for how to improve safety around the site.