NCCU to Lead Two-Year Department of Energy Traineeship Program

Posted February 24, 2022, 6:51PM

North Carolina Central University (NCCU) has been awarded a $550,000 grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) to create a two-year traineeship program promoting fields associated with the DOE’s mission.

Mohammad Ahmed, Ph.D., interim associate dean for the College of Health and Sciences and a professor of physics, is the principal investigator on the grant. The traineeship program will include students from NCCU, Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., and Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Ahmed, who has worked at NCCU for 11 years, is also associate director of the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL), a U.S. Department of Energy Center of Excellence. The 65-year-old consortium is comprised of four Triangle institutions - NCCU, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and Duke University.

Professors from UNC, N.C. State and Duke will assist Ahmed and NCCU physics professors Diane Markoff, Ph.D., and Caesar Jackson, Ph.D., in teaching students in the traineeship program. NCCU will assume the lead role.

“We’ve had grants to support students for basic science, and that’s how most of the grants at the DOE traditionally operate,” Ahmed said. “A new line of funding has been created specifically for the traineeship of students so that more students can be prepared to go into the workforce in subject matters that the DOE typically supports.”

“Their thought process is that they’ll invest in the traineeship of undergraduate students and some of them will enter Ph.D. programs, some will go into the industry and some will go into other fields that DOE supports,” Ahmed continued. “For example, the DOE is in charge of all energy demands for the nation and operates all of the nuclear reactors. They’re also responsible for conducting basic science against counter terrorism, basic science for homeland security research and, of course, basic science itself, which gives rise to technology and broadens the overall understanding of STEM fields.”

Eight students will be accepted into the traineeship program – two each from NCCU, Fisk and Florida Memorial and two from UNC, N.C. State and Duke. Ahmed said in the last five years, NCCU has received over $1 million in DOE funding, including the most recent $550,000.

“It’s a two-year program, and the idea is we’ll have a cohort of eight students each year,” Ahmed said. “This is the first time the DOE has done something like this, so they gave everybody a two-year deal.”

If NCCU’s traineeship program is successful, it will bode well for future grants, Ahmed said.

The program, which is scheduled to begin March 1, and is titled “Promoting Undergraduate Minority Persistence in Nuclear Physics,” will focus on nuclear physics training. In addition, an emphasis will be placed on five professional development areas – self-assessment, identifying goals, building strategies, finding resources and committing to timelines.

“What we’re trying to do is foster a sense of belonging in this environment,” Ahmed said. “We want the students in the traineeship program to understand they can contribute something to the advancement of science. We’re trying to create a conducive environment in which we produce role models. That’s why it’s important to have African American scientists.”

Trainees will have their full tuition covered and receive a stipend. Moreover, they won’t have to work outside campus and will be provided an apartment and meals.

“They will be paired one-on-one with top-of-the-line scientists so they can see them at work and say they worked side-by-side them while proving themselves,” he said. “We will also teach them professional development skills.”

NCCU Associate Provost and Dean of the Division of Research and Sponsored Programs Eun Park, Ph.D., said the traineeship program will help to elevate HBCUs by including them in regional training programs that have a national impact.

“Dr. Ahmed and his colleagues are working collaboratively with professors at area institutions to ensure the traineeship program is one which students clamor to get into,” Park said. “STEM subjects have long been among the hottest fields to major in, and this traineeship program led by our professors is a great way for NCCU students and other HBCU students to receive excellent hands-on training. I’m so proud of Dr. Ahmed and his colleagues for bringing this prestigious program to our institution.”

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