Skip to content
Boots on the Ground Header

Boots on the Ground, and in the Classroom

“They know what it is like to be out there in the middle of a pitch-black desert on a moonless night and have people shooting at you.”

Howard Hall, director for UT’s Institute for Nuclear Security and Governor’s Chair for Global Nuclear Security, is talking about some of the students he has in his classes. These students are active duty military.

The US Department of Defense pays for their education at UT to gain a graduate degree in nuclear engineering. The program began in 2011 with the US Army sending soldiers assigned into a group called Functional Area 52, which is the Army’s nuclear research and operations core. Years later, the US Navy began sending students and, now, the US Air Force is joining in, too.

“This program is really important because it is these students’ first foray into the nuclear counter-proliferation world,” explained Hall. “Then, they go on to become the connective tissue for the Department of Defense and all agencies that deal with nuclear security and proliferation issues.”

The students take classes within the Department of Nuclear Engineering’s Nuclear Security Science and Analysis program, learning about subjects such as issues of proliferation, nuclear fuel cycle, nuclear terrorism, and US and international nuclear doctrines. While a few other universities offer similar coursework to military personnel, UT’s program is unmatched because of its relationships with federal partners such as Y12 and ORNL. Thus, students get the chance to work on something that is not just educating them, but also having a real impact on what they’re going to do in the future.

“These students have active clearances so they can do research at Y12 and ORNL that has real operational use,” explained Hall. “This is why we have grown to three branches of the military. We turn out a really good product.”

Howard Hall
Hall teaches about proliferation detection and resistance inside a laboratory.

Graduates have gone on to manage threat reduction programs, serve as an advisor in Weapons of Mass Destruction for special operations in the Army, and teach at West Point.

“I think it’s cool that we are influencing these guys who then influence the next generation of military personnel,” said Hall. “I think this is the sort of thing a land grant university ought to be doing.”

Hall says the program has been strengthened because of the caliber of the active duty students and the real-world insights they bring into the classroom. He hopes to see more and more in the future.

“We now just need to add the US Coast Guard and Marines,” he laughed. “Then we have them all.”