Vahid Majidi, USCA

Savannah River National Laboratory Director Vahid Majidi addresses a crowd gathered at USC Aiken's Gregg-Graniteville Library on Tuesday.

USC Aiken and the Savannah River National Laboratory have teamed up to provide university students expert insight, enhanced education and decades of nuclear-related know-how.

The partnership, dubbed the Collegiate Affiliate Program, provides qualified national lab retirees the ability to teach college-level classes and labs. Another portion of the partnership enables retirees to mentor and counsel students as well as involve themselves with the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center.

The partnership was consummated Tuesday morning at the USCA Gregg-Graniteville Library, and the ceremony included the presentation of a $105,000 kickoff grant from Savannah River Nuclear Solutions. USCA Chancellor Sandra Jordan, SRNL Director Vahid Majidi and SRNS President and CEO Stuart MacVean, among others, attended.

Sandra Jordan, Vahid, USCA

USC Aiken Chancellor Sandra Jordan reviews a memorandum of understanding as Savannah River National Laboratory Director Vahid Majidi looks on. They both signed the memorandum moments later.

"Over the past decades we've worked hard to find ways to merge the intellectual capital of the university with the intellectual capital of the Savannah River Site and the national lab for the benefit of both of our organizations," Jordan said, "but more specifically for the benefit of educating the next generation of creative problem solvers."

Jordan later said the knowledge and talents of the lab's employees will "augment and complement" that of the university's faculty. She described it as a "great marriage."

While the partnership aims to elevate USCA education, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics areas, the lab also greatly benefits, according to Majidi.

The lab director's remarks on Tuesday followed the chancellor's. Majidi said the partnership will serve both organizations well and will ultimately cut back on the nuclear field's "brain drain."

"One of the biggest challenges we have in the Department of Energy complexes is the drain of expertise after people decide to retire," Majidi said.

Keeping retirees active and engaged throughout the community is crucial for the lab, Majidi continued, and their collective skill and experience can help foster a new wave of nuclear-, energy- or science-oriented professionals.

"A lot of these students end up at the Site," Majidi noted, describing the partnership as an education and "interested" employee anchor.

"I know the way that I got excited about my field is coming in contact with a person who's had a lifetime's experience," Jordan said, echoing Majidi.

The idea for the newly established partnership sprouted during discussions between Jordan and Terry Michalske, Majidi's predecessor.

"Sandra actually suggested, 'Why don't we start this collegiate program here?'" Majidi said. Jordan thanked Michalske for his "vision" during her introduction.

The Collegiate Affiliate Program is far from the first USCA-SRS partnership. There have been internships and scholarships, students have conferred with Site workers, and USCA has aligned several majors with the national lab's research.

"You know, our real focus is on the students and providing as many opportunities as we can for those students," Jordan said. "And in that sense, it helps us do something that we couldn't accomplish without the lab."

A portion of the $105,000 grant presented Tuesday will be used to renovate parts of the library for the initiative. Another portion of the sum will be used to establish a training workshop and market the program as a whole, according to lab information.

Colin Demarest is the government and Savannah River Site reporter with the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter: @demarest_colin