Three men stand in the sunlight of a concrete parking lot, in front of a blocky concrete building bearing the words "Cooper Nuclear Station."
Dillon Bailey ’23, Jacob Patrick ’23 and Devan Standley ’21 stand together outside Nebraska Public Power District's (NPPD) Cooper Nuclear Station (CNS). All three graduates, as well as Kenny Kemp ’22, are using their Doane degrees in engineering or computer science as CNS employees. Image courtesy of Stephanie Farmer, NPPD nuclear communications specialist.

It was Jacob Patrick’s high school dream to land a job in nuclear engineering. But when he graduated from Lincoln Southeast in spring 2019, the job outlook for the field was less than optimistic (total available jobs for nuclear engineering were actually predicted to decrease at the time, Patrick recalled.) 

So he kept the dream in his pocket as he completed his engineering degree at Doane, with an emphasis in electrical engineering and the intention of working in the power generation industry. 

“My father has worked with public power entities his whole working career and explained the many benefits it has when compared to private power utilities,” Patrick said. 

He started watching the job listings, especially in Nebraska — the only state with 100% publicly owned power utilities, according to the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD). 

“Little did I know, I would be given the opportunity of a lifetime to work at a nuclear plant and learn all about it,” Patrick said. 

In fact, four Doane graduates now work at NPPD’s Cooper Nuclear Station (CNS), located in southeast Nebraska along the Missouri River. Patrick and Dillon Bailey are both spring 2023 graduates from the engineering program, and Devan Standley graduated two years earlier in 2021 with a degree in computer science. Kenny Kemp, who graduated in 2022 from the engineering program, was also recently hired at CNS.  

Like Patrick, Standley heard about the benefits of working in public power from a parent — his mother worked at NPPD’s Columbus office and recommended he apply to an open position there. He did, and interviewed with a developer who previously worked at CNS. 

That developer told Standley his skill set would be perfect for another position at CNS. So he sent in a second application, and lined up another interview. 

“I thought I had completely bombed it,” he said, after his internet connection failed for a video interview, which was hastily changed to a phone interview instead. But two days later, he got a call — when could he start? 

Standley now works within NPPD’s IT team, specifically on the district’s intranet system. He, Patrick and Bailey work in separate offices — Patrick is in instrumentation and controls design and Bailey is in the EFIN department, which focuses on fixing any issues as they arise. But they regularly see each other for projects, training, “or just to say hello,” Patrick said. 

The three (likely to be joined by Kemp) are also part of NPPD’s chapter of the North American Young Generation Nuclear (NAYGN) organization, which focuses on advocacy for nuclear energy and education in inviting younger employees into the field. Standley is the vice president. As part of NAYGN, they’re often the ones leading school and community tours of the CNS facility. 

Funny enough, they all knew each other through different connections at Doane. Standley and Bailey were fraternity brothers (both were in Alpha Omega) and roommates. Patrick and Bailey knew each other through engineering classes. And Standley knew of Patrick because his father, Shannon Patrick ’86 ’10A, is an AO alumni (Patrick was in the Alpha Pi Epsilon fraternity.) 

Standley and Patrick both encouraged Bailey to apply for the job. But he says Doane has the credit for making him successful at it. The ABET accredited engineering program emphasizes necessary technical knowledge, but also teaches students critical thinking and communication. All of these skills are vital for the EFIN department, in which he is tasked with making calculations, understanding policy and procedure in the highly regulated nuclear industry, and communicating project information with other departments. 

“I am excited to deal with the challenges of working on emergent issues and always having something new to do,” he said. 

Patrick echoed that he felt prepared to enter his career after graduating from Doane. 

“No class could have prepared me for the huge amount of information I would be learning about the nuclear industry, but Doane absolutely helped me sharpen my critical thinking skills and deduce important information,” Patrick said. 

They’re entering the field at the perfect time, he said, with new developments coming up in nuclear energy, like small modular reactors. And it’s even better that he, Standley, Bailey and Kemp get to continue learning alongside each other, in a workplace that supports them. 

“My fascination with nuclear power got me interested in the position but it was the people that solidified my choice,” Patrick said. “From my very first introduction with plant personnel to new people I meet every day at work, the people are some of the best coworkers ever.”