James Clyburn, HBCU Summit

U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., pictured here during a Monday summit at the Applied Research Center near the Savannah River Site.

U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn is investing in relationships between South Carolina's historically black colleges and universities and the Savannah River Site, a pursuit that could advance academic achievement and diversify the nuclear workforce.

The top-tier Democrat on Monday met with Savannah River Site officials and representatives from all eight of the Palmetto State's HBCUs at a summit south of Aiken. The formal gathering concluded with the signing of memorandums of understanding between Fluor-led Savannah River Nuclear Solutions – the site's lead contractor – and South Carolina State and Claflin universities.

The agreements detail opportunities for scholarships, curriculum development, training and potential future employment. A similar deal was struck between Savannah River Remediation – the longtime SRS liquid nuclear waste contractor – and Denmark Technical College in October 2019.

"There are students from rural communities who are gifted and want to learn, but with no opportunity," Clyburn, of South Carolina, said in a Wednesday statement. "We've got to be a little more innovative, and what better way than to start right here at this facility. Let’s decide that we are going to devise the ways and means to make it work. All we need is a chance for these young people and they are relying on us to help them."

HBCU Summit MOU Signing.jpg

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions President and CEO Stuart MacVean, center, signs a memorandum alongside Marcus Burgess, the associate vice president of major and planned gifts at Claflin University, and Dr. James Clark, the president of South Carolina State University.

The congressman, who endorsed the partnerships, did not tour the Savannah River Site on Monday.

At an unrelated industry event Tuesday evening, Savannah River Remediation President and Project Manager Tom Foster said Clyburn spent several hours with SRS leadership. The House majority whip's passion for empowering historically black colleges and universities was evident, Foster suggested.

Outside-the-fence partnerships at the Savannah River Site, 30 minutes south of Aiken and neighboring New Ellenton, are far from abnormal; an upcoming management contract for the Savannah River National Laboratory emphasizes the importance of academic cooperation and community involvement. And in September 2018, USC Aiken inked an agreement, dubbed the College Affiliate Program, aimed at enhancing STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – education.

Savannah River Nuclear Solutions President and CEO Stuart MacVean on Wednesday said the "primary purpose" of the Claflin and South Carolina State memorandums is fostering mutual support.

"As we work to fill our pipeline," MacVean said in a statement, "we're seeking candidates who have qualifications that meet our education and training requirements in any one of several occupations."

"These MOUs will ensure students graduate with a high degree of confidence that they will be successful in obtaining the skills needed to qualify for jobs at SRNS," he continued.

South Carolina State University is home to a small undergraduate nuclear engineering program.

Late last year, MacVean predicted his team would hire about 1,000 people in fiscal year 2020. The management and operations contractor has hired thousands of people since 2014.

Colin Demarest covers the Savannah River Site, the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Nuclear Security Administration and government in general. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin