ECE senior’s nuclear industry teaching aid places first in Honors competition at 101st Alabama Academy of Science Conference

Published: Mar 13, 2024 3:00 PM

By Jeremy Henderson

Last week, Katie Wolfe learned that she'd won first place for her presentation in the Honors Scholar section of the 101st Alabama Academy of Sciences Conference held February 22-23 at Jacksonville State University.  

Thank goodness for Instagram. 

Wolfe laughs. "It's kind of funny because I was studying at my friend's house but we obviously weren't being that productive because we were scrolling through social media. And my friend congratulated me. She was like 'why didn't you say anything?' I was like 'say anything about what?'"  

Wolfe is an Honors College senior double majoring in theatre design and technology and electrical engineering. But her latest kudo, which — true story — she only learned of through the Honors College Instagram account, reflects her mastery of her minor, Nuclear Power Generation Systems (NPGS), a small but increasingly popular program within the Department of Mechanical Engineering steadily producing superstars supporting America’s nuclear power generation industry since 2011. Wolfe is one of the latest. She just needs to work on sticking around long enough to own it. 

Again, she laughs. "Well, after I presented, me and the other (Auburn) honors students went ahead and left before the awards ceremony. I just didn't expect anything to come of it."

She had her reasons. 

"This conference was different because it was a full science conference — it wasn't just engineering," Wolfe said. "Engineering subjects can be pretty technical and sometimes boring. My presentation was last, and all of the presentations before mine were on psychology and cancer research — all stuff that seemed way cooler than my topic."

Titled "Troubleshooting Nuclear: A Student Centric Teaching Aid," her presentation focused on the training potential of a pump loop system for cooling she helped design and build — and broke. On purpose.  

"We designed it to break, to make the valves fail," Wolfe said. "The whole purpose is to provide practice in troubleshooting complications at a nuclear plant, or really any plant. It's a way to train for instrumentation issues and failure scenarios."

And it's helped her better train for success scenarios. 

"When I saw Katie's abstract for the project, I told her to go for it," said mechanical engineering senior lecturer and NPGS program director Rick Williams. "She's a student in my Advanced Nuclear Power Operations II course this semester and is one of the top students to have come through the NPGS minor. She's emerged as a class leader and has the unique ability to inspire others to participate, all while appearing to stay in the background."

And, sometimes, even totally out of the building.


Wolfe discussed her prolific academic pursuits in a 2023 episode of the #GINNing Podcast. Listen below.

Media Contact: Jeremy Henderson,, 334-844-3591
Katie Wolfe

Katie Wolfe

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