As a nuclear equipment operator, Michael Joseph Vincenzini ’07 covers a lot of ground in a typical work day—about five miles actually— making the rounds on continual plant tours at Exelon Nuclear’s Limerick Generating Station in southeastern Pennsylvania.
“My job is to operate and maintain all the systems associated with the reactor,” said Vincenzini. “The health and safety of the public is our number one priority, followed by error-free operation.”
Vincenzini was hired at the Limerick plant, a nuclear energy facility that serves two million homes, a few months after he graduated from Immaculata with a degree in math. “My first job was with a benefits processing firm,” he said, “but I’m not a big desk job type of guy, so I started applying for work I was more interested in, something more related to my degree.”
After Vincenzini applied at Exelon, he was told he would be required to take an eight-hour exam testing everything from his mathematical and science skills to his mechanical aptitude. When he received the sample test, Vincenzini realized that 70 percent of it was math. “I thought ‘This is great. I know all of this.’ And a lot of it was what I learned at IU.”
One of the reasons Vincenzini chose Immaculata after completing his associate degree at Delaware County Community College was that he could earn a degree in math at IU along with a teaching certificate. “I didn’t want a math education degree,” he said, “and I also wanted to graduate in two years. Because it is a smaller school, I was able to get every class I needed in that time frame. In fact, in my last two semesters, four of my classes were one-on-one.
“Immaculata made time for me,” said Vincenzini. “The flexibility, the time savings–I got everything I needed. It was amazing what they did for me so I could graduate in my time. They were willing to work around me, and I am forever grateful to them for that.”
Vincenzini even drew on skills he acquired at Immaculata to navigate the panel interview at Exelon–a new experience for him. “They didn’t ask the standard questions,” he said. Instead, the panel used the STAR (Situation, Task, Action and Result) model in which scenarios are proposed and the candidate is asked to describe how he would respond in each instance. “The nice thing was that when they asked me to tell them about a group project I had worked on, I could use examples from my physics courses at Immaculata.”
Having secured the job, however, didn’t mean Vincenzini’s education was behind him; in fact, it was just the beginning. “Our training rivals that of a four-year college degree program,” he said. “You’re in solid training eight hours a day, five days a week, for six to seven months out of the year. It’s very intense. We compared it to drinking from a fire hose.”
Vincenzini’s job requires him to know how every system at the reactor works (there are more than 90 of them) and how they all interrelate. “It was rough at first,” he admitted. “It was constant learning, acquiring information, understanding it, then applying it. I would stay at work studying until midnight just to pass a test the next day. And even after you pass all your tests, you’re tested again on that information, plus more new material, every five weeks.”
Vincenzini also holds certifications in a range of collateral areas, from refrigerant handling, boiler operation, electrical, first aid response and hazmat to attending fire school annually for fire brigade qualification. Medical reviews and psychological evaluations are all part of the process.
After five years on the job, Vincenzini is at the point where he can share some of the knowledge and experience he’s acquired. “In this work you have to ask questions. I was asking questions all the time when I started. Now new equipment operators will come to me and I’m able to explain to them what’s going on. It’s nice that now I’m the guy who can answer some questions.”
Vincenzini, who met and married his wife Kathryn Pagnotti ’04 at Immaculata, is a devoted husband and father to their 4-year-old son. “One of the best things about my job,” said Vincenzini, “is that I can provide for my wife and my child.”
Though his days at the plant are long–he rises at 3:45 a.m. to get to the gym at work for an hour of exercise before starting a 12-hour shift–Vincenzini loves what he does. “I’ve always found ways to like my job, but this work is fun, it’s exciting, it’s constant problem solving. Nuclear power is unique. It’s always changing, always upgrading. Guys have been here 20 years and say they’re still learning. I learn something new every day.”