When asked why she came to the University of Kentucky in Paducah, senior mechanical engineering student Lisa Drapeau laughs.
“Well, I’m not exactly your typical student.”
She has a point. It is unlikely many of her peers have two adult children who are also in college. Additionally, few other students have Lisa’s 16 years of experience in the nuclear industry or worked for companies contracted by the Department of Energy; and Lisa is among a select group of students who are members of three different student organizations and four honor societies. Traditional student or not, Lisa is relishing her time at UK Paducah.
“Coming back to school as an older student helped me,” she explains. “I have more patience and persistence. The work wasn’t easy, but I was willing to work harder than I might have earlier in my life. It makes a big difference that I am in college because I want to be here and not because it’s expected.”
A few years ago, while Lisa was working as a health physics technician—one of several jobs she has held within the nuclear industry during her career—she became interested in pursuing a mechanical engineering degree. But where?
“I knew there was a UK campus in Paducah, but I didn’t know what they offered,” says Lisa. “I was told I could do a whole mechanical engineering degree right there. I said, ‘Great. Sign me up.’”
Not only is Lisa excelling in the classroom, she also spent this past summer interning at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Knoxville, Tenn.,for the Department of Energy. Assigned to the Global Nuclear Security Technology Division, Lisa worked on a project designed to improve the tracking of nuclear materials.
Set to graduate this May, Lisa hopes to focus on advancing new technologies for energy generation—an area about which she is quite passionate.
“I look at everyday things and imagine how they could be better,” she says enthusiastically. “I see every house/building as being a generator of electricity, using solar panels for their own power as well as other homes where sunlight isn’t as plentiful… What if the paint job on a refrigerator can actually supply the power to the appliance? I want to work on developing the technologies that currently don’t exist.”