top of page

Nuclear Engineering

What is it?


Possible Careers

Are you interested in the production of energy? Do you like learning how small subatomic particles react? Then nuclear engineering might be the field for you! Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to harness power from nuclear energy and radiation. Nuclear engineers also develop and refine nuclear materials used in specialized medical imaging devices.

  • Nuclear Medicine Technologist

  • Atomic Process Engineer

  • Nuclear Steam Supply Engineer

  • Reactor Engineer

Meet an Expert

Theresa Makely

IMG_20190305_184452090_2 - Theresa Makely.jpg
  • Graduate of Mississippi State University with BS degree in nuclear engineering

  • Began career at Mare Island Naval Shipyard in California as a temporary systems nuclear engineer

  • Promoted to Assistant Chief Refueling Engineer

  • Promoted to Project Manager to transition the shipyard to closure

  • Transitioned to Norfolk Naval Shipyard as a Refueling Engineer

  • Currently the Director of Lifting and Handling for the shipyard in charge of 700 people

Expert Q + A

What led you to choose nuclear engineering as your career?

  • My father was a nuclear engineer. And I attended University of Cincinnati which had a co-op program to help pay tuition and books. They had a small, but good engineering program.

What is your favorite part of the job?

  • Working with the trades (mechanics). They are so great and really teach me a lot, even now. And I love solving puzzles and challenges to make the team more effective and efficient.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career?

  • Working and raising 4 kids was a challenge. Balancing home and work life is very important. I'm a workaholic so I have to remind myself to take time for me and my family.

What kind of education, training, or background does your job require?

  • BS degree in any engineering discipline. And the shipyard trained me to be a Shift Refueling Engineer, and other qualifications needed for my job.

What are your main responsibilities as a nuclear engineer? What kind of problems do you solve and what decisions do you make?

  • As a nuclear engineer, I have line authority to make technical decisions in my area of responsibility. This requires me to ensure the work being done to maintain nuclear powered warships is done technically correct and in accordance with the requirements (drawings, manuals, specifications, etc.). Currently, in my managerial position, I make more policy and administrative decisions, such as hiring, staffing, major equipment acquisitions, strategic plans, programs and systems.

What skills, abilities, and personal attributes are essential to success as a nuclear engineer?

  • Drive, eye for detail, problem solving skills, ability to work as a team, planning, and follow through. I believe respect for others and empathy are leadership skills essential to success.

Describe a typical day at work.

  • I get in at 0700, check my email and calendar, and say "good morning " to my management team. Some mornings I go to the waterfront to engage with the mechanics, inspectors, and engineers. Or if I have meetings, I attend those. Lunch is at 1120, and the afternoon is the same as the morning. Some days I attend training, and some days there are tours with senior executives like the Shipyard Commander.

What current issues and trends in nuclear engineering should girls who are interested in the field know about?

  • Nuclear energy is seen as one solution to climate change. The commercial infrastructure is aging and requires investment. However, reaction to Fukushima has put nuclear energy programs at risk in USA. China, India, and Russia are leading the industry. Nuclear power has a very stable future in the nuclear Navy.

What advice would you give a tween/teen girl who is interested in becoming a nuclear engineer?

  • Study the sciences, mathematics, and physics. If you love these subjects, you will enjoy being an engineer. Also, develop your people and teaming skills which are very important.

Interested? Try This!

Beginner Activity

What is radiation and why is it all around us? Check out this website to calculate your yearly radiation dose and then explore the exciting world of nuclear energy.

Advanced Activity

Radiation and radioisotopes are used in medicine to diagnose and treat disease. Nuclear engineers may work in radiology, radiation therapy or the production of radioactive isotopes for medicines.

Activity Link:

Activity Link:

bottom of page