Joshua Vajda, PE named 2015 Early Career Alumni Recognition Award recipient


Joshua Vajda has been named the 2015 Early Career Alumni Recognition Award recipient for the Penn State Department of Chemical Engineering.

The award is designed to honor an outstanding Penn State chemical engineering graduate who received his or her degree within the past ten years, and who has proven themselves an exemplary role model for current chemical engineering students, as well as a successful contributor to industry.

Josh has over ten years of experience in the nuclear industry performing engineering analysis in radiation protection, power plant chemistry, reactor engineering, mechanical systems design and hazardous waste management.

He received a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Penn State in 2004 and a master of engineering degree in nuclear engineering from The University of Idaho in 2008. 

He began his professional career in 2004 as a radiological engineer for Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory at the Naval Reactors Facility in Idaho Falls, Idaho. There, he provided oversight for the exterior and interior remediation of nuclear facilities. He supported decontamination and decommissioning activities, which involved a graded systems engineering design approach including development of working drawings and development of hazard analysis reports to control health, safety, environmental and radiological conditions. He was also involved with two capital projects including the design and initial startup testing of a new instrument calibration laboratory and the design and implementation of new radiation detection equipment for monitoring airborne radioactivity.

In 2008, Josh was promoted to the position of Technical Supervisor of Site Dosimetry. Under his leadership, the department was successfully issued a continued two-year operating certification by the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program under Naval Reactors.

In 2009, Josh left Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory to pursue a unique opportunity with the Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG), a publicly traded diversified energy company in New Jersey. At PSEG he served as an operational chemistry supervisor at Hope Creek Generating Station, a licensed commercial power reactor. Over the next two years, he transformed the department significantly. Through perseverance, hard work, and leadership, Josh increased the overall Chemistry Effectiveness Performance Indicator of the department by over 75 percent, positioning his department as one of the top three boiling water reactors in the nation. For his outstanding contribution, he was awarded the PSEG Operational Excellence Award in 2011.

During this time, Josh also took on a number of additional leadership roles within the organization, including Radiation Protection and Chemistry Outage Manager during refueling outages and Radiological Assessment Coordinator as part of the Emergency Response Team. In addition, he spent time to prepare for and successfully obtain his Professional Engineering (PE) license, which is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). Josh is currently a licensed PE in the states of Idaho, New Jersey and Virginia.

In his quest for continued professional growth, Josh was presented with the opportunity to fill the role of reactor engineer at PSEG in 2011. As a boiling water reactor engineer, he planned, reviewed and executed reactivity maneuvers for core flow changes, control rod adjustments at reduced power, reactor startups and reactor shutdowns. He was also approached by the PSEG senior-leadership team to develop chemistry systems training for engineering personnel. Although this was not part of his primary job responsibilities, Josh volunteered his own personal time to develop lecture material and lesson plans for engineering personnel based on his advanced knowledge of plant water chemistry.

In November 2011, Josh enhanced his credentials by becoming a Certified Health Physicist by successfully passing a dual-sectioned Health Physics Certification Examination. The exam is administered by the American Board of Health Physics and is awarded to a very select group of individuals within the United States. The exam tests specific knowledge in radiation protection such as: measurement and instrumentation, hazard analysis and control, medical health physics, particle accelerators, research and power reactors, nuclear fuel cycle analysis and nuclear waste management. 

From 2012 – 2014, Josh worked for Babcock and Wilcox Power, Inc., where he was employed as a mechanical systems design team lead for the development of a Generation III++ Pressurized Water Reactor, classified as an advanced reactor design. He developed and issued engineering calculations, technical reports and design optimization assessments for heavy industrial machinery including: pressure vessel design, fuel handling equipment, heat exchanger analysis, fluid flow analysis and fluid pump design. The engineering documents were used to build a conceptual design package, which was presented to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in an effort to garner continued support for the small modular reactor program.

Most recently, Josh joined URS Corporation, an AECOM company, where he is currently employed as a senior consulting engineer.  He provides technical engineering support to the National Transuranic Waste Program for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a Department of Energy facility located near Carlsbad, New Mexico. 

Leadership and Professional Activities

Apart from his outstanding career achievements, Josh is also an active member of several professional organizations and engages in a number of leadership activities regularly. Among these include: The American Nuclear Society where he serves as Vice Chair designee of the Professional Engineering Examination Committee. He is also actively involved with the Health Physics Society where he serves on the Continuing Education Committee and is an advocate for the organization. He accepts opportunities to increase public understanding of radiation protection by contributing to the work of professional associations, schools, and the professional, scientific and technical press.

Josh was formally honored as the recipient of the Penn Sate Department of Chemical Engineering Early Career Alumni Recognition Award on September 23 during a reception at the University.

View photos from the reception


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Mindy Krause



The Penn State Department of Chemical Engineering, established in 1948, is recognized as one of the largest and most influential chemical engineering departments in the nation.

The department is built upon the fundamentals of academic integrity, innovation in research, and commitment to the advancement of industry.

Department of Chemical Engineering

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Phone: 814-865-2574