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Sylena Smith: Nuclear Grrl

It isn't obvious how you get from a Princess Cruise in Alaska to a nuclear power station in Pittsburgh – unless you've spent some time at Columbus State.

Sylena Smith found herself doing the former in the late 1990s, and rapidly realizing customer service wasn't her thing. She decided to go back to school for Chemical Engineering, starting at Columbus State in 2000.

"I chose Columbus State because they had the good transfer programs with Ohio State, and I knew I wanted a four-year degree," says the Groveport native.

Columbus State's two-year Associate of Arts/Associate of Science degree fulfills the first two years of a bachelor's degree at most Ohio colleges. Our transfer options with Ohio State have gotten better since the millennium: Our Preferred Pathway® program allows students to "pre-major" for their Ohio State program, ensuring you take only the classes you need.

Smith took her general education classes at Columbus State, including English, Speech, Calculus and a series of Chemistry courses. She found the "junior college" stereotype was a myth. Her Chemistry sequence prepared her well for Ohio State's Organic Chemistry course, a notorious "weed-out" course.

And it was at Columbus State that she developed an interest in nuclear engineering. She did a capstone project on nuclear fusion that led her to refocus her career.

Smith graduated from The Ohio State University in 2004 with a bachelor's degree in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, then stayed on to earn a master's degree in Nuclear Engineering. She is now a project manager at Westinghouse Electric Company in Pittsburgh. She leads a team of engineers providing products to customers seeking a license to construct and operate the Generation III+ AP1000 nuclear plant.

And on the side, she runs a blog called "nucleargrrl," with the growling "rrs" in there to denote extra fierceness. She runs her uncensored insights into religion and feminism alongside essays on the nuclear power industry.

Writing the blog helps clarify her thinking, she said. She puts a lot of research into each of her posts, as she knows they'll have to stand up to peer scrutiny.

"It sounds corny, but it's really rewarding when you get recognized by people in your industry for the quality," Smith says.