Students in the Summer Undergraduate Nonproliferation Internship Program conduct research and education projects supervised by some of the nation’s leading experts on nonproliferation.
“Big Nuke Energy” is a new podcast launched by three young women in the Summer Undergraduate Nonproliferation Program focused on current events in the field from a female perspective.
Samantha Barnes, Grace Kier, and Arielle Landau met this summer in Monterey. They were all selected to the highly competitive Summer Undergraduate Nonproliferation Program at the Institute’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS). The program offers on-the-job training for undergraduate students who conduct research on issues related to the spread and control of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and regional security issues. Participants also have the opportunity to work on ongoing CNS projects or develop their own research projects under the guidance of senior CNS staff.
Barnes, Kier, and Landau each came to the program through very different paths. Kier, a rising senior at the College of William & Mary, is studying Government Global Studies with a concentration in Russian and Post-Soviet Studies. She became interested in nonproliferation issues while studying abroad in Russia. Barnes is also a rising senior, at the University of Georgia, where she is majoring in International Affairs with an emphasis in security, specializing in terrorism studies. And Landau, a Middlebury College junior is an Environmental Studies and Sociology/Anthropology double major. While in high school she attended the Critical Issues Forum hosted by CNS, and along with her passion for environmental justice issues, has been interested in nonproliferation ever since. Each has found a way to combine their interest with a personal project, and each brings a different perspective to the podcast.
The podcast, which is unaffiliated with the Institute, or CNS, kicked off its first episode in July, after the trio decided that they were bubbling with ideas about their experiences as women in academia and particularly in the field of nonproliferation.
“There’s this trope about millennials, that we have just one meaningful conversation with friends and then say “guys, we should start a podcast!” said Kier. “But that’s actually what happened. The three of us had talked about starting a podcast that discussed the position we are all in as young women working in nonproliferation. And we said, “why can’t we be the ones to work on this?”
Through their backgrounds working and studying nonproliferation, the hosts of Big Nuke Energy learned that the field is heavily male-dominated, and that most people who are respected (and published) in the field are male as well. In the podcast, they discuss how difficult it can be as women to be seen as intelligent and trustworthy, and even how the language used in the field can make a big difference.
“Nonproliferation is a unique field because it’s so tight knit, everyone seems to know everyone, but it’s also weirdly masculine, especially compared to other defense or security-related fields. A lot of the language used is super masculine in nature, which can be uncomfortable when you’re a woman in a room full of mostly men,” said Kier.
The podcast discusses current events in accessible, jargon-free language, intended for a wide audience to understand, including newcomers to the field of nonproliferation. Every episode also includes a section called “Proliferation Patriarchy” where Barnes, Kier, and Landau discuss improvements that can be made in the field to make it more female-friendly. They very intentionally choose to include concrete steps that can be taken toward inclusion in the field. The trio emphasizes that they want their podcast to be an outlet for women to not only voice their concerns about their experiences, but also to find a way forward.
“At the end of the day, what our podcast is talking about is, this issue doesn’t only affect men or women. If a nuclear bomb explodes in your hometown, everyone is affected. It’s not just an issue that happens over “there” either - if India and Pakistan have a nuclear engagement, it would literally affect the entire world. And so we want to make sure all voices are heard, because otherwise you can’t find any kind of solution,” said Barnes.
After they complete their summer internships, Barnes, Kier, and Landau plan to continue the podcast, despite living far from each other. They have many more ideas about plans for guests on the podcast, and have even garnered some attention from experts in the field on social media. “It’s going to be really awesome to be able to say, ‘here is a physical representation of what we have done over the summer and what we’re passionate about related to the fields that we want to go into,’” said Barnes. “This also will allow us to be in the room in the first place to advocate for these issues.”
For More Information
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The Middlebury Institute’s James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies hosted a conference March 29-30 for high school students from Japan, Russia, and the U.S. to address issues of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament.
| by Masako Toki
Sarah and Tom Pattison’s support for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, particularly its Summer Undergraduate Fellowship program, is helping fulfill the mission to help train the next generation of nonproliferation experts.