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Partnership offers direct career path from Pellissippi State to ORNL

Dr. Wise and Jeff Smith sign MOU between Pellissippi State and ORNL to offer a Chemical Radiation Technology pathway on May 31, 2023.
Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr., left, and Jeff Smith, interim lab director for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, sign a Memorandum of Understanding allowing the lab to partner with the college to offer a new Chemical Radiation Technology pathway for students starting in fall 2023.

It’s official: A partnership between Pellissippi State Community College and Oak Ridge National Laboratory is set to bring new career options to students and a stronger workforce to the national lab.

On May 31, representatives from the college and the U.S. Department of Energy’s ORNL signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the new Chemical Radiation Technology pathway, an option within Pellissippi State’s multidisciplinary Associate of Applied Science in General Technology degree. Three new classes — two taught by experienced ORNL scientists — have been added to the college’s existing curricula, and students who take them will be prepared to enter the workforce at ORNL and other national labs even without first completing a bachelor’s degree. In addition, they’ll visit the ORNL campus during their studies and will be well-positioned for internships and other opportunities.

Pellissippi State president L. Anthony Wise Jr. called the new pathway “a great example of the work that we want to do” by partnering with organizations that have significant impact in the region. He said around 80 percent of Pellissippi State students stay in the greater Knoxville area after graduation.

“We’ve got a curriculum for students to follow,” Wise said. “We’ve got opportunities for students to get to the lab, to see what work is like at the lab, to understand what it’s like to be a professional at the lab, and to dream about what it would be like to be a person who worked there.”

Kane Barker, dean of Natural and Behavioral Sciences at the college, said the new pathway was active within a year of the college meeting with the ORNL team, led by Clarice Phelps, a nuclear chemist in the Isotope Science and Engineering Directorate. Normally, it takes two years to institute such an option, he said, but students already can register for fall 2023 classes.

Group photo from ORNL MOU signing on May 31, 2023
Among the Pellissippi State and Oak Ridge National Laboratory leaders attending the signing May 31, 2023, are (seated, from left) Pellissippi State President L. Anthony Wise Jr. and Interim Lab Director Jeff Smith and (standing, from left) Patty Weaver, vice president of External Affairs; Kane Barker, dean of Natural and Behavioral Sciences; Susan Hubbard, deputy director for Science and Technology; Clarice Phelps, S&T Staff (chemist), Isotope Science and Engineering Directorate; Cynthia Jenks, associate lab director, Physical Sciences Directorate; Jeremy Busby, associate lab director, Isotope Science and Engineering Directorate; Balendra Sutharshan, deputy for laboratory operations; Moody Altamimi, director, Office of Research Excellence; and Kellie Toon, vice president of Academic Affairs.

“Now that we’ve blazed this path, others can follow,” Barker said.

He said the new pathway includes elements of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and applied chemistry, among other disciplines.

“We’re really combining everything a student needs to become a graduate and an employee,” he said.

Those employees will be crucial to ORNL’s success as it continues to increase and improve production of isotopes for medicine, industry, national security and scientific research, said Jeff Smith, interim lab director. For example, ORNL now produces multiple radioisotopes for cancer treatment clinical trials, and it’s the only place in the world some rare isotopes are produced.

“We have capabilities and assets that are unlike anyplace else in the United States,” Smith said, “and we have activity underway already that’s starting to build momentum.”

The new pathway will let local students take advantage of that, making a career at ORNL — and making a difference. He noted that Phelps was part of a team involved in discovering a new element on the periodic table: Element 117, named Tennessine.

“That’s the kind of opportunity that people who come to work for ORNL get,” Smith said. “They get a chance to do something that, in many cases, really makes an impact on the world.”

For more information on the Chemical Radiation Technology pathway, contact Dean Kane Barker at or 865-694-6695.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information visit