January 14, 2022

Fourth year NRE student Kiara Chambers, from Crestview, Florida shares her story working with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and experiences from within NRE. In this spotlight find out about her life outside of school being a first gen mentor, part of women in engineering, and her interest in painting.  

Where are you from?

I am from Crestview, Florida. While Atlanta is a 5–6-hour drive from my hometown, I am happy with my decision to come to Tech for engineering.

Why did you choose Georgia Tech?

While there were multiple schools with engineering opportunities, I knew Tech would push me to the best of my capabilities. I like a challenge, and after visiting the campus back in Fall 2017, I knew I had to come here. I like new experiences, even if it means leaving out of my comfort zone. I do not regret the journey I am having here.

How long have you been at Georgia Tech?

I have been here since August 2018, and I plan to graduate with my B.S. in May 2022.

What are you involved in outside of class? 

I am a part of the Georgia Tech First-Generation Student Programs as a first-gen mentor. As a first-gen student, I would have loved another first-gen to guide and navigate me through my first year here on campus. I became a mentor to support and guide my mentee in any way possible. I am also involved in NRE Student Advisory Committee (NRESAC) and Women in Engineering. Besides those, I like to write poetry, sing songs, read books, paint abstract art, post it (the art) on Instagram, and spend time with my friends.


What’s your favorite part about Georgia Tech?

I would have to say Tech Green and the events that happen over there. It’s a great way to meet new people. And, the hammocks are pretty relaxing to sit in between/after classes. It's a great place to get some work done if you love being outside.

I would have to give an honorable mention for the recently done light bridge for the Price-Crosland Walkway. It is so illuminating and beautiful during the day and night. And, I love the animations!

What about nuclear and radiological engineering initially interested you, and made you ultimately decide on that major?

Funny story… I came in as an aerospace engineering (AE) major. I wanted to work in the aerospace and defense industry. After interacting and conversating with the upperclassmen in the department, I realized my lack of interest in the field. So, I did some thinking and began to research other engineering majors available at Tech. When I saw NRE, I was pleasantly surprised and intrigued. After looking through the research opportunities in radiological sciences/engineering, I knew NRE was for me. Medical Physics was my initial route; however, after interning with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), I learned Health Physics was my calling.

What opportunities at Tech have you found to be the most helpful as a student?

Academic advising, career fairs and workshops, and events hosted by SCPC were the most helpful to me.  Events such as Night at Six Flags and the Georgia Aquarium allowed me to meet more people and de-stress after a long week. I’ve also gotten to talk to recruiters for internships through Tech and their career fairs. Academic advising has also made me realize the importance of time management. Having a schedule that worked for me took trial and error. Yet, I am glad I know now rather than finding out later.

Was there anyone who inspired you or acted as a mentor for you?

Many people have inspired me, but I will name a few.

Kaitlyn Comstock, my best friend, reminds me to take things one step at a time and enjoy the moment and the times I have here at Tech. As for Professors in NRE, Dr. Hertel encourages me to believe in myself and not worry if things do not go as planned. Dr. Biegalski inspires me to be honest with myself, and it is okay to ask for help. Last but not least, Dr. Erickson has influenced me to showcase my capabilities of being a great leader. And, I cannot forget my parents. They always told me to do what makes me happy. It is my life, and I am the one living it :)

How would you describe your time at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL)?

It was interesting to do it completely virtually. While it was challenging to have more opportunities for work, I learned how much I liked research. And as I mentioned before, I saw how I was more invested in applications in health physics rather than my initial route of medical physics.

What did you find to be the most interesting while researching radiation and skin contamination?

The software I used for radiation and skin contamination: VARSKIN+.  It is a computer code from the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) used to calculate dose from skin contamination. However, you can also use it for neutron dosimetry, eye dosimetry, and wound dosimetry. VARSKIN+ was relatively simple to use. And, it was fascinating to see how the people I collaborated with in the External Dosimetry Program (EDP) at Oak Ridge used it to make estimates on their radiation workers.

What aspect of Georgia Tech have you found to be the most helpful in your career?

I found making friends and networking with people outside my comfort zone to be the most helpful for my career. The Mental Health & Wellbeing Resources from Health Initiatives also helped me find balance in school and personal life. It has been a journey. I learned how much I love to meditate and paint to destress and be more aware of the present. I realized prioritizing your well-being will not only help you now but also in the long run. And that it is not so bad going out of your comfort zone. 

Going forward, what are your plansKiara post-graduation?

I do not have a definite plan. I know that I want to take a year off to decide what I want to do next. The uncertainty scared me at first, but I think that’s the most exciting part. While I see myself having a full-time job in radiological engineering/health physics, I also envision traveling across the country and possibly internationally. Grad school is a viable option too :)

In your opinion, what is the best thing about NRE?

How niche yet diverse it is.

There are not many of us, but it is easy to talk to professors, and it is nice that they are more than likely to remember you.

It is diverse in the career options available for those interested in NRE, such as energy, utilities, health physics (radiation protection and radiation safety), medical physics (radiation therapy, diagnostic imaging, and nuclear medicine), military, and much more.

Overall, I like how a major so small can be so unique.

What advice do you have for high school students thinking about coming to Tech? 

Do not worry if you have to change your mind about your major or anything you do when you come to Tech. College is the opportunity to explore your options and find what is best for you. Remember, your experience is yours, not anyone else's!