A nuclear family:
UW-Madison ANS student chapter
As an orange sun rose over the University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering campus on a summer Friday morning, latecomers were arriving at Mickie's Dairy Bar. By 7 a.m., 11 members of the UW-Madison chapter of the American Nuclear Society (ANS) had settled onto red vinyl stools in the corner tables of the breakfast diner. As Sadie the waitress kept the coffee cups brimming, students and faculty members slipped into casual conversation and occasional gossip.
The tradition of gathering at Mickie's on Friday mornings dates back 15 years. The ANS faculty advisor, Engineering Physics Assistant Professor Paul Wilson, says he started coming to Mickie’s as a graduate student in 1992 for the infamous “scramblers,” which are a mix of fried potatoes, eggs, meat, gravy and cheese that current ANS members say they can handle—as long as they lie down afterward.
The Friday breakfast club is only one of several frequent gatherings for the highly active chapter. ANS boasts national recognition as the two-time winner of the national ANS Glasstone Award for an outstanding student section.
The UW-Madison nuclear engineering department, and the nuclear field in general, is smaller than other types of engineering, says chapter president Jeremy Roberts, a fifth-year nuclear engineering undergraduate. The result, he says, is a close-knit community for the nearly 60 active members of ANS.
Connections among those ANS members will carry into the professional world, says public information officer Brian Kiedrowski, a nuclear engineering graduate student. “Your friends will become your colleagues, and you need these colleagues in a field like nuclear,” he says.
At the heart of ANS is a cause that distinguishes it from similar engineering organizations in other fields, Kiedrowski says. “There is a lot of public misunderstanding about nuclear engineering, and our goal is to bring understanding of its role in society,” he says. “We want to tell people what we do.”
The networking component of ANS is on full display at its larger social gatherings, such as the Pik-Nuke, a picnic for ANS members, faculty and friends held each semester.
Despite chilly weather, a sizeable crowd walked almost two miles from the UW-Madison campus to a local park for the fall 2007 Pik-Nuke. Brats, burgers and a visit with Bucky Badger kept spirits of the approximate 100 attendees higher than the 50 degree weather.
Roberts describes the connection between ANS social activities and the group's sense of community as a “chicken and the egg” cycle: The activities bolster the community, but there is also an inherently strong community that likes to participate in activities. ANS members use social events as rewards and incentives for active membership in the group, which requires participation in public outreach, ANS service, community service and professional development, says Wilson.
In addition, the solid, involved ANS community encourages members to participate in outreach events such as Boy Scout badge workshops and high school presentations, says Kiedrowski.
For ANS, community service and social events often blend together for charitable causes. During National Engineers Week, casually known as E-week, ANS and Mickie's Dairy Bar host a scrambler-eating competition for campus student organizations. ANS wins every year, according to communications officer Amy Wiersma, a nuclear engineering undergraduate student. “We have year-round training, so of course we dominate,” she says.
Together, Mickie's and ANS donate $1 (50 cents each) for every scrambler eaten during E-week to the American Heart Association.
Students who take on leadership roles in ANS have an opportunity to gain valuable experience, especially in managing a budget, says Wilson. “I've seen a lot of students mature over the years,” he says. “Employers appreciate if you can demonstrate actual contributions to a student organization.”
Roberts agrees his leadership in ANS has been important and says it has brought a sense of organization to his scatter-brained nature. “I've learned to time-manage and delegate—and that you can't do everything,” he says.
The current group of ANS student leaders is above average in dedication and in the attitude they bring to their respective roles, says Wilson. “The leaders are who make it all happen and keep people interested in staying involved,” he says.
He says the ANS group has become more inclusive since his graduate school days. An increase in the number of non-elected positions, which give a student responsibility to organize a single event or activity, has provided even more opportunities for active members to gain leadership experience.
Multiple ANS members say an important element to the group is the combination of work and play. The small nuclear engineering major means that students see each other frequently in classes—and, says Roberts, one of the most important functions of ANS activities is to give nuclear students a way to interact casually, outside of class.
Overall, the current ANS leaders are working to carry on the group's tradition of involvement. “I just hope we can continue to mimic the success of recent years,” Roberts says. “I have faith in the people around me that we can do just that.”