LOS ALAMOS, N.M. — An N3B apprenticeship program that trains students in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Environmental Management cleanup mission at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) will begin offering an associate’s degree in applied science this fall, providing Northern New Mexicans additional opportunity for educational advancement.

The New Mexico Higher Education Department approved the proposal from Northern New Mexico College (NNMC), N3B’s partner in the apprenticeship program, in May 2021. The degree is an Applied Associates of Science in Nuclear Operations Technology. N3B, or Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos, addresses the environmental impacts of Manhattan Project- and Cold War-era operations at LANL for the DOE’s Environmental Management Los Alamos Field Office.

“This is part of the commitment we made with Northern New Mexico College when we started our partnership,” said Mark Russell, N3B’s central training and apprentice program manager. “We asked ourselves, ‘What can we provide students above and beyond apprenticeship?’ We want to create an educational pipeline for students and better our surrounding communities.”

After passing its one-year provisional period in February 2021, N3B’s apprenticeship program also received permanent status from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions, making it an enduring program for the state.

Apprentices are trained in the proper handling, packaging, treatment and documentation of hazardous and radioactive legacy waste. In addition, they learn to coordinate the compliant certification and disposition of that waste — a crucial role in N3B’s mission to clean up and protect Northern New Mexico. The program offers students full-time employment from day one, paid tuition and on-the-job training.

Before offering an associate’s degree, N3B required students to complete 50 college credits, which provided them a program certificate. This left students ten credits short of an associate’s degree. With a two-year post-secondary degree in hand, students will now be better positioned to pursue advanced degrees, especially in STEM fields.

“All six of our current apprentices have told me they want to go on to get their bachelor’s,” Russell said. “This program has really energized them.”

N3B will welcome its third cohort of nuclear operator apprentices in August 2021. Two N3B boot camp programs have also graduated and employed 26 students.

A video commemorating permanent status of N3B’s Nuclear Operator Apprenticeship Program — with messages from U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), NNMC President Rick Bailey and others — is available on N3B’s website here.

For more information on N3B’s workforce development initiatives, please contact Human Resources at 505-257-7800.

Willie Cordova, one of N3B’s facility shift operations managers, trains apprentice Jessica Maestas at TA-54, where legacy transuranic waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory is stored and prepared for shipment to an off-site disposal facility.