Leigh Outten is something of a degree collector. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering; two master’s degrees from MIT—one in nuclear engineering, the other in technology and policy—and an MBA from a French school. Now she’s in her third year of UT’s law program. What does one do with such a wide array of degrees?
“My dream is to work at the International Atomic Energy Agency,” Outten said. “I think the laws associated with the handling of nuclear materials are really interesting.”
Y-12’s current legal intern, Outten has found a setting that puts each of her unique educational experiences to use thanks to the UT/Y-12 Field Placement Program. The program is a unique collaboration between the College of Law and the Y-12 National Security Complex.
Chuck Young, adjunct law professor and Y-12 lawyer, says the program offers students experiences they can’t get elsewhere.
A good example is the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), a massive book governing the ways federal entities and often their contractors, like B&W Y-12, conduct their business and procurement operations.
“I’d been practicing law for fifteen years before I came out here, and I’m still learning a lot about this,” said Young, who estimates that fewer than two dozen practicing attorneys in the Knoxville legal community understand the FAR. “For a second-year law student to already have that leg up is a huge advantage.”
The Field Placement Program is designed to give students a unique internship opportunity centered on the contractual, commercialization, and compliance activities that take place at a federal site like Y-12. That includes work on numerous technology transfer initiatives, patent applications, and other site wide efforts to commercialize Y-12 innovations.
“My experience gave me valuable insight into the government contractor context and its unique regulatory framework,” said Kourtney Hennard, who completed an internship last summer and intends to become a patent attorney upon graduation. “My exposure to various elements of the patent prosecution process will be invaluable in my future career.”
For Outten, the internship is an opportunity to work toward her IAEA dream.
“I’m doing basic legal work that I’ve never done before,” said Outten. “They’re allowing me to do real things, not just making copies or stuffing envelopes.”
Young says the program’s benefits work both ways.
“It’s great for these students to be able to say, ‘I’ve been inside a federal complex and I know how these things work,'” he said. “And we’re also putting more people out into the world who understand Y-12 and what we do—that will ultimately benefit us.”
-written by Y-12’s Eric Swanson