LOS ALAMOS, N.M. – On August 8, Dominic Montaño and Milnor Branch graduated from the Newport News Nuclear BWXT Los Alamos (N3B) Nuclear Operator Apprenticeship Program (NOAP). The two most recent graduates celebrated this milestone at Northern New Mexico College (NNMC) with family, friends and leaders from N3B and NNMC.

During the two-year program, Montaño and Branch were full-time N3B employees. They received a competitive salary and full benefits during their on-the-job training at legacy cleanup sites at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and while they completed coursework at NNMC’s Española campus.

From left: Hector Balderas, NNMC president; Milnor Branch; Dominic Montaño; Brad Smith, N3B president and general manager.

Montaño is a native of Tierra Amarilla, north of Los Alamos. After graduating from high school, he worked several jobs and was considering a career in wildland firefighting. He learned about the NOAP while working in maintenance and groundskeeping at N3B.

“The apprenticeship was a turning point in my life and career,” said Montaño. “I plan to pursue an environment-related bachelor’s degree at some point, but in the meantime, I’ll try to move up the ladder at N3B – hopefully into a managerial or supervisory position.”

Branch grew up in Española and attended high school in nearby Pojoaque. He signed up for the apprenticeship program directly out of high school with the encouragement of a family member who works at N3B.

“This seemed like a really good way to obtain a specialized skill and an associate degree at the same time,” Branch said. “I definitely want to continue my education and earn my bachelor’s degree and remain in this region.”

The N3B apprenticeship program began in 2020 and is offered in conjunction with NNMC’s associate of applied science in nuclear operations degree program. N3B pays tuition and related education expenses for its apprentices who earn that degree.

NNMC developed its associate degree program in partnership with N3B and incorporated the curriculum into the apprenticeship program. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to work with N3B,” said Ivan Lopez, NNMC provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The apprenticeship program is life-changing for these students. Now they have a wonderful career ahead of them!”

This was the third graduating class of the NOAP. Like previous graduates, Montaño and Branch will join N3B as nuclear operators. They’ll monitor safety compliance, support daily operations and manage inspections in support of the U.S. Department of Energy’s commitment to clean up legacy waste at LANL.

“The apprenticeship program is vital to the success of our work, and we couldn’t offer it without the support of the leaders at Northern New Mexico College,” said Brad Smith, N3B president and general manager. “We’re working together to prepare New Mexico students for long-term, rewarding careers, which is a significant element of our community support mission.”

Two additional students are midway through the apprenticeship program, according to Mark Russell, N3B’s director of training and apprentice programs, and two more are scheduled to begin the program in October.

Anyone with a high school diploma or equivalent degree and an interest in a career in applied and environmental science can learn more about N3B’s apprenticeship program and other career opportunities at https://n3b-la.com/workforce-development/.