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Adriana Cartagena

Adriana Cartagena


I did my co-op for Evergy in Burlington, KS at Wolf Creek Generating Station for two rotations totaling 16 months. I was placed in the Reactor Engineering workgroup that determines viable options for operators to maintain reactor safety. The most integral learning experience for both rotations was helping during the refueling outages, where I had independent responsibilities instead of only shadowing my workgroup. I led the effort to remotely record fuel assemblies being removed from the core in order to inspect for foreign material. By creating a fiber link between the Radiological Control Area to the office building, I significantly reduced the dosage taken on during the offloading window. After all the videos were taken, I inspected all discharge assemblies for foreign material and identified any anomalies. Across an excess of 60 assemblies I identified 3 things that others had missed. While these were non-issue, they did require further examination. During my co-op I also compiled data of monthly surveillances going back over 7 years in order to streamline the process. In addition to working with fuel, I created a PowerBI that helped organize tasks and show which work orders were in progress or finished. This method helped us maintain critical path, meaning that no delays would occur because of the workgroup being under prepared. During my co-op the polar vortex occurred in Texas, meaning that my plant was one of the most important generators at the time. The reliability of nuclear power gained much credence at the time, since coal plants could not operate at maximum power. Overall, my experiences were both enlightening and encouraging.

I decided to co-op to identify what I would want to do after graduating. The knowledge I gained about my potential future helped immensely in wanting to continue my Nuclear Engineering degree, and inspired me to pursue a minor in Nuclear Safety. The workplace showed me aspects of engineering that I hadn’t considered, and changed my perception on working in utilities as a whole.

A big lesson is that a co-op or internship will only give you what you ask for. As a new hire there might not be a lot of projects available to work on, but it is important to always find an opportunity to be an asset. One of my first lessons at Wolf Creek was to always stop when unsure, and peer review with your workgroup. Everything was worth asking about, because maintaining plant safety was always the number one priority. I loved that my workplace put so much importance on safety and asking questions, and teaching me not to be afraid to need help. That is an experience I believe everyone can attain for themselves during their own co-ops or internships.

As a Nuclear Engineer, working at Evergy taught me so much about nuclear power generation. I got to see how cost projection affects power output, environmental safety practices, and other topics that I hadn’t considered before. I also saw familiar topics from classes I took before my rotation, like how to affect reactivity in the core or all the systems in place to keep the fuel cool. When I finished my rotation and went back to school, what I learned helped me gain a deeper understanding of my classes.

Internships and co-ops will both give you a really in-depth look at what the real workplace has to offer. Having completed both rotations and spending 8 months at a time at the plant, I got a really amazing perspective on my field. Internships may not offer as many smaller opportunities to connect with your workgroup, but have the advantage of not affecting graduation. Regardless, work opportunities, whether a co-op or internship, are too valuable to pass by.

In my downtime, I love hand-knitting and creating fun things for my family and friends. I also enjoy shark documentaries and spending time with my wonderful cats Tapioca, Vienna, and Doppio.

Adriana Cartagena

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