A photo of a person standing in front of a sign that says \"Oak Ridge\"
Christine George is working on nuclear nonproliferation as an intern for the National Nuclear Security Administration. (Contributed photo)

VCU student spends summer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory working on nuclear nonproliferation

Internship with security agency lets Christine George combine policy and math backgrounds.

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Christine George finally has the opportunity to mix their two passions — public policy and mathematics.

A rising senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, George is spending the summer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where they are working on nuclear nonproliferation as an intern for the National Nuclear Security Administration. The agency, which is under the Department of Energy, conducts research and monitors the movement of nuclear material in foreign countries. They work in the Transport Security Engineering and Analysis group.

George is double-majoring in mathematics (with a concentration in statistics) and political science (with a concentration in civil rights) in the College of Humanities and Sciences. They learned about the internship in a departmental email – it mentioned an opportunity through the Minority Educational Institution Student Partnership Program.

They said they wanted to work specifically in nuclear nonproliferation.

A portrait of a person wearing a button up shirt and suit jacker
Christine George is double-majoring in mathematics (with a concentration in statistics) and political science (with a concentration in civil rights) in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences. (Contributed photo)

 “I figured if I got it, I would get to do something that deals with the intersection of policy and data analysis, something in data science,” George said of the internship, whose application process included several interviews.

They had previous internships in public policy that were often administrative in nature, but the work at the national lab has been more challenging and enjoyable – and they feel like they are making a difference.

“I have to gather a bunch of regional data and come up with a predictive model for the region of interest,” said George, who could provide only limited details about their work given its sensitive nature but said the work involves a prolific amount of researching and coding

The internship required them to spend the summer in Tennessee. While they receive a small stipend, they also received an award from VCU’s Internship Funding Program, which helps students defray costs associated with summer internships. George said they might not have been able to take the internship without the funding.

“It would have been hard,” they said. “I have already had to pay for a lot of things out of pocket. The stipend is nice.”

George has been paired with two mentors at the national lab and has worked with a larger team. The experience has broadened their skills and their understanding of nuclear nonproliferation.

“It has been really nice,” George said. “The people are super nice. It’s really cool to be in a place that has a lot of history. Oak Ridge played a huge role in the Manhattan Project. They also have the world’s fastest supercomputer.”

When not working at the national lab, George has enjoyed experiencing the outdoors in Oak Ridge. The town is small, they said, but it has a lot of outdoor opportunities.

“Life moves at a slower place here,” they said.

The National Nuclear Security Administration has extended George’s internship, allowing them to work remotely after they return to VCU in August. They hope the experience and their academic degrees will lead to similar work that mixes statistics and public policy. George’s goal is to be a data scientist

“VCU’s classes are great, but you learn more about the government when you are actually working for it,” George said. “You get to see how the processes actually work in practice.”