Across the country, college students have been forced to adjust schedules and routines for the upcoming academic year in response to COVID-19. Despite the changes it has brought, CNS successfully committed to providing educational development opportunities for students this summer as a part of the CNS Internship Program.
In June, Pantex and Y-12 welcomed 40 participants, 16 at Pantex and 24 at Y-12, to the 2020 intern class! Each had the opportunity to learn what CNS has to offer, virtually and in person.
Behind the mission
Brittany Schidel, a mechanical engineering major pursuing her master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, was prepared to begin her first internship at Y-12. Growing up in Knoxville, she was familiar with the site’s history and even got to attend student outreach events at New Hope Center. Nonetheless, the knowledge she has gained from her time interning with Y-12 Reliability & Maintainability was eye opening.
“I was surprised by the amount of information I have learned in such a short period of time,” Schidel said. “I have been able to participate in field work along with supporting the condition based maintenance team in their future projects on site. Everyone has been so helpful with teaching me about the site and allowing me to work hands on with them and understand what the Preventive Maintenance team does at Y-12.”
As a Ph.D. pre candidate in nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan, Thomas Folk looked forward to interning at Y-12 for the first time. Along with having the opportunity to relate his curriculum to real world experience, Folk was also eager to apply and contribute to the mission after learning more about Y-12 at the Millennial Nuclear Caucus at New Hope Center in 2019.
During his interview, Folk admittedly knew he was in the right place for the summer.
“A big reason that drove me to want to intern at Y-12 is through the conversation with my hiring manager during an interview,” Folk said. “Not only did I want to take on an internship for the technical aspect, I equally desired to build leadership qualities and strong team working abilities.”
A ‘new normal’ summer
With her sights set to become a future chemical engineer, Danica Ruiz, a chemical engineering major at Texas Tech University, knew Pantex would allow her to gain the skills to do so through improving her technical experience and problem solving skills. As the summer approached, Ruiz admits she was thankful that CNS made the effort to preserve the internship program despite the pandemic.
“CNS has made every effort to ensure our safety and well-being by implementing teleworking and a remote onboarding process,” Ruiz said. “Since I have been able to start working on site, everyone at Pantex has been welcoming while still encouraging and participating in social distancing. I am incredibly thankful for the valuable experience I have gained in this short amount of time. CNS has shown their ability to continue towards their mission without compromising safety.”
For Bryce Rogers, a business management major with a concentration in project management at Elon University, his second year interning at Y-12 looked a little different than the last. As Rogers primarily teleworked through his internship, his experience with Y-12 Supply Chain Management proved to be just as valuable and engaging.
“Everyone who I’ve spoken with has tried to keep a positive outlook on everything,” Rogers said. “This is obviously not how many of us expected to be performing our internships this summer; however, many of the employees continue to be just as engaged and impactful to my experience here, just as if I was standing right there in their cube.”
While working with Y-12 Supply Chain Management, Rogers admittedly not only took away practical skills for the future by getting involved with daily meetings and tasks. He also began to understand the gravity of the mission.
“The fact that I get to tell people the work that we perform every day helps keep the country safe is something that I never thought I’d get a chance to say,” Rogers said. “To be completely honest, the work that we do here is just plain cool.”
Thomas Folk took part in the CNS mission this summer interning with Y-12 Global Security. (No mask necessary in private space.)
As a mechanical engineering major at West Texas A&M, Hector Rivero Figueroa (left) looked forward to interning with Pantex Engineering, “because it is one of the best careers to have here in the Amarillo area.”
Drew Rowlands (center), an intern with Pantex Fire Protection, was able to refine his skillset as a fire protection and safety engineering major at Oklahoma State University.
For Brittany Schidel, taking part in hands‑on experiences, means learning how condition‑based maintenance is able to improve workflow on‑site and assist areas of the plant.
Electronics Technician Galen Boothe, a 50-year Pantexan, works on a Micro-Plasma Tig Welder in the Electronics Shop
In honor of World Photography Day, we’d like to introduce you to Pantex Photographer Michael Schumacher.
You may have seen Michael around the plant – he has a camera in tow and a smile on his face – ready to snap photos of the people, places, and events of the Pantex Plant.
Michael has taken photographs since he was a young boy, first learning basic photography, cameras, exposure, and darkroom film processing and printing from his father who was a hobbyist photographer. His first camera was a Kodak Brownie, and he took family snap shots and silly pictures of his feet.
He fell in love with photography while living in Wyoming.
“I caught the photo bug while living in Wyoming with all beautiful scenery around Big Horn, Sheridan, and Yellowstone.”
Michael said he has always wanted to be a photographer and had his first news photo published at the age of 15 – a breaking news story photo of a smashed tricycle.
“After that, I wanted to be a photojournalist,” he said, “so I went to school and began working in the newspaper industry for 35 years at papers in Oklahoma and Texas.”
Most recently Michael spent 20 years at the Amarillo Globe-News before coming to Pantex in 2019. He says he’s photographed a lot of wonderful and amazing people and has seen a lot of bad things he’d like to forget in his career as a photojournalist.
Michael has been married to his wife Shari for 36 years, and they spend their spare time raising Chow Chows.
His favorite part of being a photographer is meeting people and telling their stories in pictures.
“I like to capture personality in a photo and show people somethings they have never seen before,” he said. “I always wanted to be the eyes for a community and make a difference with my photography.”
Michael said one of his favorite things to photograph is lightning.
“It’s so cool looking and unpredictable,” he said. “One summer night I was shooting at the Cadillac Ranch trying to catch meteors from the Perseids Meteor shower which happens every August.”
In the late hours a storm rolled up and went right over the Cadillacs.
“I got several nice pictures of lightning and this one in particular where my silhouette showed up in the frame,” he said. “I always liked that picture and I still thank God to this day for protecting me while shooting pictures in the middle of a wheat field with lightning striking all around.”
Michael has a strong faith and says that God motivates him, but he has admired Ansel Adams’ black and white photography his entire life.
“I was also inspired by many Associated Press photographers for years, especially the Vietnam era shooters,” he said. “Their photos during the war touched my heart and opened my eyes to the power of photography and its ability to change the world.”
Michael’s bucket list for photography includes spending time in Israel.
“The history and people of that area intrigue me,” he said. “I’d love to spend a year documenting the country.”
When asked how his role at Pantex adds to the mission he said “as a Pantex photographer, my goal is to illustrate the day to day operation at Pantex and to tell the great stories about our proud Pantexan workforce through photos.”
Michael said he has the best job in the world.
“I get to meet new people every day, learn cool stuff and tell incredible stories in photos,” he said. “I usually keep a smiley-face sticker on the back of my cameras to remind me to always have fun. If I’m having fun, then everyone around is usually having a good time and it shows in photographs I make. So let’s have fun people!”
Security Police Officer Payten Pearson training at the Pantex Range
Pantex Tool Maker Michael Gover (QC), a 15-year employee, watches the milling process on a Mazak Mill in the Machine Shop
Take five minutes and learn about CNS’s Laura Valdez, Quality Projects and Programs. “I am mission success” profiles share how each employee feels tied to the Pantex and/or Y‑12 mission. All views and opinions are the employee’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of CNS.
Laura Valdez, Quality Projects and Programs.
With 27 years of experience at Pantex, Laura Valdez has a passion for doing things well. This has made her job in Quality Projects and Programs the perfect fit for the last ten years.
“I enjoy instilling quality in our mission. Even more satisfying is witnessing the same passion in others for quality and for making sure what we do is the right thing and for the right reasons,” she said.
Laura graduated from Caprock High School in Amarillo, Texas and never dreamed she’d be working at Pantex. Attending West Texas A&M University, Laura earned both undergraduate and masters degrees in accounting. She began working at Pantex as a budget analyst. Since then, she has worked in Projects, Program Management, and now Quality. The experience and knowledge gained from each area has paved a path to her passion for what we do at Pantex and for doing what is right.
What is your favorite aspect about your work environment? How does that aspect make you know the mission is being met?
The role I am in now is very gratifying because Quality touches every aspect of what we do at both sites. I have the opportunity to work with many different organizations and processes. I’m also in a position to affect change, whether it’s from a continuous improvement perspective or responding to an issue. I view our role as the conscience of the company, which carries with it a great responsibility to ensure not only that we meet our mission, but that we do it right.
Are you doing what you envisioned as a young adult?
No. I knew I wanted to be an accountant from an early age; and, at the time, never saw myself as doing anything else. The significance of what we do at Pantex means so much more to me now than when I was younger or even when I first started working here.
Although my education is in accounting, I have been able to move into positions that helped me grow and learn. I never would have thought I’d be doing what I do now. I’ve been in this position for ten years, the longest I’ve been in any position here.
As an employee, what do you want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered as a person who isn’t afraid to speak up for what is right. Those who know me know that I speak my mind; and, when I do, it’s always from a good place. I’ve seen what can happen if someone doesn’t speak up, and I don’t want to be the one who stood by and let something happen because I said nothing. I am that way at work and at home.
I am also someone who will volunteer where I see a need and have a hard time saying no when asked to help. I hope I am remembered as a person who helps others.
What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Pantex or Y-12?
Don’t hesitate to offer suggestions for improvement. Ask questions. A new set of eyes and perspective on processes are an important aspect of a learning organization.
Another bit of advice that I feel strongly about is to learn as much as you can about different functions at work. Don’t limit yourself or hesitate to try something new. Pantex is a great place to do that, because you have the opportunity to move into other positions and build on your experience and knowledge base. It can be very rewarding personally, especially as it increases your contribution to the organization and our success.
What’s your favorite outside-of-work activity?
I spend a lot of time with my family. My husband, Jason, and I have been married for 21 years and have two children. Madison is 13 and Alex is 16. I enjoy being involved in their school and sport activities. I recently coached my daughter’s club volleyball team and will be helping coach her team at Holy Cross Catholic Academy this year.
Sixteen nonprofits in the Texas Panhandle will be better able to expand or continue their missions thanks to grants from Consolidated Nuclear Security’s (CNS) Pantex Community Investment Fund, administered by the Amarillo Area Foundation (AAF). On June 25, AAF and CNS Pantex hosted a virtual grant ceremony to award the following organizations:
Nonprofits receiving grants:
- A World for Children – $5,000
- Amarillo Area Court Appointed Special Advocate – $7,500
- Amarillo Children’s Home – $10,000
- Another Chance House – $7,500
- Faith City Mission – $6,000
- Family Care Foundation – $6,000
- Heal the City Free Clinic – $6,000
- Hope Lives Here – $6,000
- Make‑A‑Wish Foundation of North Texas – $7,500
- Martha’s Home – $10,000
- Ronald McDonald House Charities – $10,000
- Sharing Hope Ministry – $10,000
- Texas Ramp Project – $5,000
- The Downtown Women’s Center – $7,500
- Turn Center – $10,000
- Upbring – $7,500
Earlier in June, High Plains Food Bank asked for volunteers, and Pantexans answered that call. On June 12, 10 Pantexans helped sort and pack at the HPFB warehouse. The HPFB partners with over 190 different agencies to help end hunger in the Texas Panhandle. Before the pandemic, HPFB was distributing more than 6,000,000 meals each year. The food bank’s goal during the COVID‑19 crisis is 2,000 meals daily.
Mission Engineering is led by Gary Sanders, who has a wealth of experience within the nuclear weapons complex.
Gary Sanders has led a unique and distinguished career, including stops at the Pentagon and the U.S. Department of Energy Headquarters, where he interacted with top defense brass and foreign nuclear agencies. However, as a child, he aimed higher.
“I always wanted to be an Air Force pilot,” Sanders recalled, “but they wouldn’t let me fly because of my vision.” Instead, he pursued a new path — nuclear engineering and reactor design.
“I never could have predicted all the opportunities I have had,” said Sanders, whose opt in attitude has kept him on the go. An engineering internship at Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory led to graduate school and Sandia National Laboratories, where he helped design the nuclear weapons that Pantex and Y-12 maintain and refurbish today. Fewer than 12 years after starting his career, Sanders had his first special assignment in Washington, D.C., which eventually resulted in multiple assignments with the Air Force.
“I still didn’t get to fly their planes, but I did get to improve the safety features of their nuclear weapons.”
Before joining CNS, Sanders and his wife thoroughly enjoyed two years of retirement. “We’d alternate between visiting mountains and beaches,” he recalled, noting that outside of work he likes to scuba dive and hike. “I also volunteered at the aquarium and really enjoyed raising multiple litters of puppies for the local animal shelter,” Sanders said.
Why are you mission success, and how was it proven during the sites’ reduced, mission critical operations?
Mission Engineering enables Pantex and Y-12 Operations. Production equipment must work, project teams need to be able to do their updates, nuclear safety has to be in place, and so much more. The sites literally cannot do their mission without us, and we are useless if they can’t use what we design and build.
During the reduced, mission critical status, the importance of Mission Engineering was proven yet again: Approximately 80% of the Pantex work to build and surveil weapons continued, and we had teams set up to help with their Safety Basis, tools and procedures. Virtually all of the Development work continued as mission essential, including work on purifying uranium, melting binary, performing readiness assessments of lithium technology, and much more. All Engineering support for the Uranium Processing Facility continued across multiple shifts, and most project engineering support continued, including using computer-aided design to perform designs from home.
How did your opinion of your work environment change as CNS sites were placed in reduced, mission critical status? What is your favorite aspect about your work environment?
The flexibility to perform a large degree of engineering design work remotely has been eye opening and only made possible by the heroic support of Information Solutions and Services. I believe teleworking will permanently change some of how we do business in the future to accommodate family dynamics.
As for my favorite aspect, hands down, it is not having to wear a suit and tie. I wore both for years in Washington, D.C., while working at the Pentagon. I brought only one suit with me when I moved to Tennessee.
As an employee, what do you want to be remembered for?
I can think of two things. First, asking two important questions: Why are we doing it this way, and can we do it better? And second, for reinforcing educational standards for Pantex and Y-12 Engineering positions. An engineering degree denotes a level of technical rigor that must be in place for certain aspects of our work.
What work advice would you offer someone who is new to Pantex and Y-12?
Be open to experiences and challenges — they will both come, and both provide opportunities. Also, visit or transfer between the sites. It’s important to understand the people and challenges at both locations.
What one thing would your coworkers be surprised to know about you?
I was not raised in the United States. My father worked for U.S. Steel, which took us to Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela, where I grew up.