Student Spotlight: Anna Schafer
March 22, 2023
Meet Anna Schafer, a second-year NRE student from Boston, Massachusetts. In this student spotlight Anna talks about why she chose to study at Georgia Tech, what she likes most about her major, her experience conducting undergraduate research, and what it was like to attend COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Anna Schafer, and I’m a second-year student studying nuclear and radiological engineering (NRE). I’m originally from Boston.
Why did you choose to study at Georgia Tech?
Georgia Tech is one of the few colleges that offer an undergraduate degree in NRE, and their program is highly ranked. Compared to other schools that offer NRE, Georgia Tech stood out because of the many opportunities on campus for students to further their careers, like undergraduate research.
What do you like the most about nuclear and radiological engineering?
Whenever I tell someone my major, I get the same responses every time, such as “We have that major?” or “I’ve never met an NRE major before,” but I love being in a small major. I’ve gotten to know my classmates and professors well, and there’s a strong sense of community.
What was something that surprised you about your major?
When I came to Tech, I thought that NRE majors mostly went into the nuclear power industry, but I’ve learned that there are so many more applications and job opportunities than most people think.
What are you involved in outside of the classroom?
I’m involved in the Laboratory for Advanced Nuclear Nonproliferation and Safety (LANNS) directed by Associate Chair for Reserach and Woodruff Professor Anna Erickson. Right now, I’m working on a project to develop and test polysiloxanes, a type of organic detector. I also manage the American Nuclear Society’s (ANS) social media accounts. Outside of academic clubs, I love climbing at the local gym in midtown with friends.
Have you had the opportunity to attend any conferences while at Georgia Tech?
Yes, I attended the United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt last November. I went as a delegate from ANS, which is part of a larger international group called Nuclear for Climate (N4C). Each year N4C sends a group of delegates from all over the world to COP to promote green nuclear technologies.
Tell us more about COP27. What did you learn? What was your favorite part?
At COP27, I got to meet people from all over the world and have conversations with them about climate change. Every day I talked to people about nuclear power, addressing their concerns and misconceptions. It was an amazing opportunity to share my passion with others and meet people in my group who shared that same passion. When I wasn’t advocating for nuclear energy, I got to attend events hosted by other countries and groups, my favorite event being a panel discussion on climate justice and energy poverty. Every interaction taught me something new, both about nuclear power and other aspects of climate change.
Is there anyone who has inspired you or acted as a mentor during your academic journey?
The two Georgia Tech graduate students whose research projects I work on have definitely acted as mentors to me over the last year. I came into research feeling overwhelmed, and unprepared, but with their guidance, I feel more confident taking on individual projects and learning new skills like Python and Compass.
So far, what has been the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Attending COP27 has been my biggest accomplishment so far because it took me very far outside of my comfort zone. Our group also wasn’t super organized, so I had to navigate traveling on my own to a foreign country with almost no information about what to expect.
In your time at Georgia Tech, what’s the most important thing that you’ve learned?
During my first semester at Tech, I struggled to cope with the amount of work and tests I had. Over the last year, I’ve become much better at maintaining a work life balance and prioritizing things that make me happy.
What advice would you give to a prospective student who wants to major in nuclear and radiological engineering?
Get involved! There are so many opportunities in NRE that other majors don’t have. We constantly have networking events with professionals in the field that often lead to internships for students. Undergraduate research is another easy way to gain more skills and work on a cool project. ANS also hosts a lot of fun socials for NRE students to engage with each other and eat free food.
What do you look forward to doing in the future?
For the first time, N4C will send a group of delegates to the Conference of Youth (COY), an event that happens the week before COP and brings together young people from around the world to discuss climate change solutions. I am the youth lead this year, so I will be organizing N4C’s participation in COY. I’m excited to attend COY28 and COP28 in Dubai, where I can continue making an impact.