Pen Pal Program Empowers Young Minds

Publication12,200. We’re not referring to the number of megawatts one of our nuclear plants produces. Instead, it’s the total number of students and employees who have participated in the pen pal programs at Catawba and McGuire nuclear stations since its start more than 10 years ago.

Initially, the pen pal program was created to help elementary school students improve their writing and reading skills by providing a fun and interactive way to practice and improve those skills. But, as it grew, the program has come to mean much more. Through letters and conversations with pen pals, employees spark students’ interest in careers they may have never known about. In return, the pen pal program has enabled employees to serve in mentorship roles, possibly empowering young students to pursue a career in the nuclear industry.

Each year, Catawba and McGuire nuclear station employees are paired with students who engage in spirited exchanges of ideas and updates throughout the school year. This year, nearly 90 eager employee pen pals, representing a variety of departments, are participating in the pen pal project, working with children via handwritten letters and connecting them in lasting ways.

“Not only does the project allow students to improve their penmanship, but writing about their world and reading about someone else’s helps build vocabulary and reading skills. It also develops critical thinking and problem solving skills and helps children feel connected by sharing their stories and reading about another person’s life experiences” explains Lisa Leonard, a long-time pen pal at McGuire.

After several months of sharing letters, pen pals meet face-to-face to share conversations and experiences over a picnic lunch and games.

Recent Nuclear Industry Survey Shows the Public Strongly Supports Nuclear Energy

The nuclear industry prides itself on being one of the most transparent, heavily regulated and, most importantly, safe industries in the world. To make sure the public feels the same way, regular surveys take place across the country to gauge public perception.

The latest Nuclear Energy Institute-commissioned national public opinion survey revealed highly favorable responses about nuclear energy. The phone survey of 1,000 respondents was conducted in September 2013 and included questions related to attitudes toward U.S. nuclear energy planning, future electricity requirements and the benefits of nuclear energy.

Below are a few of the findings from this survey:

  • 69 percent now favor the use of nuclear energy as one of the ways to produce electricity (up from 65 percent in September 2012 and 62 percent in September 2011)
  • 82 percent of Americans feel nuclear energy will play an important role in meeting the country’s future electricity needs
  • 84 percent of respondents favor renewing operating licenses for nuclear power plants that continue to meet federal safety standards
  • 77 percent believe that nuclear power plants operating in the U.S. are safe and secure – a four percent increase from last February

Annual national celebration places focus on nuclear science, careers and education

NSW-logoLast week, Duke Energy hosted a series of local events in communities around the company’s six nuclear plants. More than 125 nuclear professionals across the company’s nuclear fleet met with hundreds of students to give them a lesson on nuclear power as part of National Nuclear Science Week – a national, broadly observed week-long celebration to focus local, regional and national interests on all aspects of nuclear science.

Teammates flocked to local schools while others welcomed homeschoolers to their site’s energy education centers, where outreach efforts ranged from interactive presentations and hands-on activities. Several of the events were orchestrated by the site’s North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN) and Women in Nuclear (WIN) groups.

Curious to know what went on during National Nuclear Science Week? Below are some key outreach efforts held during the week-long celebration:

  • Brunswick Nuclear Plant:Brunswick’s nuclear teammates hit the ground running last week by hosting a National Nuclear Science Week fair at six local schools. Nearly 85 volunteers met with more than 2,000 students to help spark awareness about nuclear science. Students were able to spend about 30 minutes visiting different stations including a robotics demonstration, learning about the anatomy of an atom and participating in a “nuclear dance” as a way of learning how a boiling water reactor works.
  • McGuire Nuclear Station: 80 Boy Scouts visited the EnergyExplorium, McGuire’s education center, to earn their nuclear science merit badge. Scouts were able to see and touch models of a turbine, generator and fuel assembly as they learned about nuclear power.A nuclear science day was also planned for nearly 125 homeschool students. Members of Duke Energy’s NA-YGN partnered with the American Nuclear Society and led a presentation focusing on nuclear power; a participated on a career panel answering questions about their background, skills and education. Students also participated in hands-on, interactive activities including a demonstration on radioactive half-life using M&Ms.
  • Harris Nuclear Plant:Students from a local college were led on a site driving tour, while a group of realtors participated in a lunch and learn at the site’s energy education center hosted by WIN. A member of Harris’ WIN group also visited a local school and met with middle schools science teachers and female students to lead a nuclear science program.
  • Catawba Nuclear Station: The site welcomed nearly 100 members of the homeschool community for a nuclear science day. Students participated in five sessions during the event, including a nuclear dress out activity. Families also learned about half-life and radiation decay, the various types of careers at a nuclear plant, how the plant makes electricity and participated in nuclear trivia. 24 volunteers from Catawba helped to make the event a huge success.
  • Robinson Nuclear Station: Robinson teammates gave 12 presentations to five local schools. Approximately 607 students were able to learn more about nuclear energy, nuclear careers and the success paths Robinson employees took to get where they are now.
  • Oconee Nuclear Station: Teammates from Oconee participated in the “Bite of Science” at Clemson University, a workshop designed to improve teacher’s ability to provide students a context of how science is applied in the real world and inspire students to pursue careers of excellence and leadership in STEM. The World of Energy, Oconee’s energy education center, offered a tour of the site’s control room simulator to 55 students from Furman University, hosted a homeschool day and delivered six presentations to local high school and elementary school students.

Duke Energy places a year-round focus on education at all of its nuclear plants across North and South Carolina. The company reaches thousands of students and teachers each year through an extensive public education and community outreach program.