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ECU students Kyle Williamson, left, and Sheridan Rucker are poised to begin a selective officer candidate program with the U.S. Navy. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

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ECU Pirates dive into Navy's nuclear propulsion programs

Nov. 7, 2013

By Jamitress Bowden
ECU News Services

After they graduate from East Carolina University, two students will begin training for one of the most selective education programs in the U.S. Navy.

Kyle Williamson and Sheridan Rucker, both seniors, have been accepted into the Navy's Nuclear Propulsion Officer Candidate (NUPOC) program. Williamson is an engineering major with a double concentration in both mechanical and industrial and systems engineering. Rucker is a chemistry major.

NUPOC is a specialized education program focusing on the different uses of nuclear power within the Navy. Those selected for the program are assigned as a submarine officer, surface warfare officer, naval reactors engineer or naval nuclear power school instructor. Williamson will be a surface warfare officer, and Rucker will be a submarine officer.

The training in the program is comparable to graduate-level instruction, according to Dr. Andrew Jackson, ECU professor of industrial engineering technology, who once served as an evaluator of the teaching and work completed during the program for the American Council on Education.

With the training Williamson and Rucker will gain, Jackson said, they will be well respected in the engineering community. "I think they're well positioned for a high-quality and high-paying career, both inside and outside of the military," said Jackson.

Both students are excited about launching their Navy careers.

Williamson, who will graduate in December, did not grow up with a desire to serve in the military. He wanted to be an engineer. However, he did admire the pride his stepfather has for his service in the Marine Corps. Williamson said, "When the opportunity presented itself to be an engineer and serve my country, I couldn't turn it down."

Rucker's family has military ties as well. His mother told him there are always good people in the military. "I get to meet new people that are like me, that's kind of my favorite part," said Rucker, who will graduate in May 2014.

Dr. Steve Duncan, assistant vice chancellor for administration and finance and military programs said the university is fortunate to have two students selected for the program. "I do hope other students who are talented in the STEM disciplines will look at Sheridan and Kyle as academic leaders and follow their lead in examining the full breadth of job offerings to include opportunities with the NUPOC program," he said.

To qualify, applicants must have successfully completed two semesters of calculus and two semesters of calculus-based physics. After the initial application is turned in, the applicants were contacted for a phone interview, which included calculus questions, and was followed with an in-person interview. The second interview consisted of more calculus questions and ended with meeting Admiral John Richardson, director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.

Williamson said the application process was rigorous. "It was very stressful and difficult," he said.

Rucker and Williamson will both begin their training with officer candidate school – a 12-week process to become commissioned officers in the U.S. Navy. After his initial training, Rucker will move onto naval nuclear power school for 24 weeks to study nuclear propulsion.

Participants in the NUPOC program follow different tracks depending on their assignments. After being commissioned as an officer, Williamson will begin his first sea tour before heading to the nuclear power school.

Following successful completion of nuclear power school, both will proceed to the 26-week nuclear power training unit where they will receive hands-on training working with reactor prototypes. Rucker will then attend a 12-week course where he will learn about operating a submarine before his first sea tour. Williamson will go on to his second sea tour after the nuclear power training unit.

Rucker said that he is a little nervous about starting the NUPOC program. "But that's what nuclear power school is for," he said, "so that you're prepared once you get on the ship."