Serving five counties in the Central Savannah River Area, one private nonprofit organization has been working to fund and support education in science, technology, engineering and math.
The Savannah River Site Community Reuse Organization, or SRSCRO, is a group formed to support the economic well-being of the area surrounding the Savannah River Site – Aiken, Allendale and Barnwell counties in South Carolina, and Richmond and Columbia counties in Georgia.
"The mission of the SRS Community Reuse Organization is to facilitate economic development opportunities associated with Savannah River Site technology, capabilities and missions and to serve as an informed, unified community voice for the five-county, two-state region," reads the SRSCRO mission statement.
Rick McLeod, president and CEO of SRSCRO, said the organization was established in 1993 as one of several community reuse organizations created during the 1990s at nuclear sites nationwide. The nuclear workforce was dwindling at the time, and community reuse organizations served to limit the economic impact of that decline.
Now, more than 1,000 new workers are needed each year at SRS, according to SRSCRO's 2019 annual report.
"Instead of losing the workforce, now we're looking at gaining pit production. So those skills are not just folks that you could pull off of a tree, so they have to be retrained," McLeod said. "... It's still the same objective with the workforce and economic development."
The Department of Energy's Environment Management and National Nuclear Security Administration offices have awarded SRSCRO about $10 million since 2011, according to the 2019 report. These funds support local training, education programs and scholarships at several local colleges and universities.
Hundreds of students at Aiken Technical College, Augusta Technical College, Augusta University, USC Aiken and USC Salkehatchie have received scholarships, according to the report.
McLeod said the organization is trying to build up the local workforce.
"We've done a lot in the STEM arena," McLeod said. "We attend a lot of the teacher workshops and let them know about site work activities," and the skill mix that is needed.
Beginning in 2013, SRSCRO has held annual STEM Career Connections events for high schoolers in the area.
At STEM Career Connections, the students can learn about STEM careers and opportunities both in and out of SRS.
"We've had things like interviews, what not to wear, what to wear. What casual work attire means ... We try to work them through all the aspects, not just the technical skills, but also the interpersonal skills," McLeod said.
The SRSCRO website, srscro.org, is another resource to find out about opportunities at SRS.
Not all SRS careers are technical, so work opportunities exist outside of the STEM fields, McLeod noted.
"What people need to realize, though, it's not all nuclear engineers. The site is a microcosm of almost a small city, so you have lawyers, contract procurements, custodians, maintenance workers. All of those types of folks out there are not just technically trained," McLeod said.
McLeod said SRSCRO's workforce efforts leave a lingering impact that many people don't see – and for McLeod, providing scholarships has proven one of the more rewarding aspects of his job.
"Seeing how the scholarships can impact people, you don't realize that until you hear some of the personalized stories, whether you gave somebody a $500 to $3,000 scholarship means a lot in individual lives, and people do not realize. That, to me, has been one of the more rewarding aspects of it," McLeod said.