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Mikayla Florez
Mikayla Florez ’17 shares her career experience and advice to current nuclear engineering students. | Image: Texas A&M Engineering

Nuclear power, her dogs and Texas Aggie football are what Mikayla Florez ’17, a former student from the Department of Nuclear Engineering at Texas A&M University, answers when asked what she is passionate about.

Now a system design engineer at Holtec International in Camden, New Jersey, she gets to live out one of those on the daily.

Currently, she develops the SMR-160, a natural circulation small modular reactor. Before that, she worked for two years at Limerick Generating Station as an equipment operator. In both cases, she explained, she has been excited to play a part in providing safe, clean and reliable energy.     

“As part of the operations team at Limerick, I directly helped in the generation of clean electricity,” Florez said. “In my current role, I’m able to help develop a safe, reliable design that could help generations to come.”

During a typical day, Florez generally works on one or two systems for the SMR-160 at any given time. For each project, her duties include identifying system requirements and functions, performing calculations and developing system piping and instrumentation diagrams.

As such, communication is key to career success. Florez said she is constantly interacting with outside teams like mechanical, instrumentation and control, deterministic safety analysis and probabilistic safety analysis while developing SMR-160 reactors.

“I work in a diverse setting with engineers of different backgrounds,” she said. “You must be able to work across multiple disciplines and know a bit about each field. Most of the time you’re dealing with a non-nuclear engineer.”

Florez reflected on her experiences in the nuclear engineering department and how they prepared her for her current position. For example, her summer 2015 study-abroad trip to China allowed her to not only experience another culture, but also gave her the chance to tour several nuclear power plants that were in different stages of construction.

“Getting exposure to the different aspects of nuclear engineering helped me decide the path I wanted to take,” she said. “The various seminars, courses, tours to nuclear power plants and the study-abroad trip to China helped me discover my passion and decide to focus on utilities. Access to the on-campus test reactor at the Nuclear Engineering and Science Center also provided a unique experience that many studying nuclear engineering aren’t usually exposed to.”

She also offered a word of advice to current students looking to prepare themselves for industry and finding a career that suits them.

“I would say just put yourself out there and soak up as much information from the people around you as you can,” Florez said. “Try to secure internships and other practical hands-on experience to see where you’d best fit in the industry. Talking to alumni or a mentor in the industry can help immensely when seeking direction and career guidance.”