This month, Sandia’s Weapon Intern Program will graduate its 25th class in 22 years. The program was created in 1998 to accelerate the learning process and transfer decades of knowledge and experience in all phases of the nuclear weapon lifecycle, from experienced weaponeers to the new generation of stockpile stewards.
Program administrator Katheryn Pape said this year’s class has been unlike any other.
“With all the unknowns, it has been unpredictable, disappointing and frustrating. It’s also been rewarding when we were able to find new and inventive ways to help educate the next generation of weaponeers,” Katheryn said.
This year’s class was challenged by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting need for staff to isolate or work from home. The program administrators had to get creative with how to deliver meaningful education and how to redefine the class’s capstone project. The solution was to have students collaborate on nuclear policy research. The class co-authored, in groups of about seven, several major policy papers.
“This pandemic is a teachable moment for how the enterprise needs to be flexible and prepared,” said Will Frankland, Sandia engineer and class of 2020 graduate. “We can now imagine a future where we’re expected to deter war while our entire population is incapacitated and isolated. We’ve discussed how it can be done. These challenges felt very real to the class and were experienced in real time.”
Just as it did this year, the WIP curriculum is intended to evolve to better address the challenges of maintaining the nation’s nuclear deterrent for the future. It seeks to strike a balance between a healthy appreciation and respect for the past while focusing on the present and future.
Nuclear deterrence work accelerated
In the current accelerated path toward nuclear stockpile modernization, Sandia’s nuclear weapons workload has dramatically increased, and Sandia is working concurrently on more weapons programs now than at any time since the end of the Cold War. To help Sandia deliver on its important nuclear deterrence work, the program trains new nuclear security complex workers from throughout the enterprise, to prepare them for the challenges of maintaining the nation’s nuclear arsenal and expertise.
Since its beginning, 514 participants have graduated from the program, including 301 Sandians and 213 professionals from other organizations, including the U.S. Air Force and its Nuclear Weapons Center, U.S. Navy, Kansas City National Security Campus, Pantex, Y-12, Savannah River Site, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Defense Threat Reduction Agency and students from intelligence community organizations such as the FBI and CIA.
WIP prepares its participants so they can contribute in a way that better serves themselves, their home organizations and the nuclear weapons community.
The 2021 class begins in September. Candidates for the 2022 class can learn about becoming an intern on the WIP website. Applicants must have a Q-clearance and one to five years of nuclear weapons experience in a nuclear deterrence organization or have directly supported the nuclear deterrence mission.
Sandia’s weapon engineer professional development department also offers a manager’s course, Essential Topics for Nuclear Weapon Management (affectionately called WIP-lite), to provide a broader overview of the nuclear security enterprise.
The graduating ceremony for the 2020 class will take place Aug. 27. The event will be live-streamed and recorded for later viewing. Employees can visit the Weapon Intern Program website to learn more.