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Radiation health physics student represents U.S. nuclear policy overseas

Heather Bell is earning her degree online while leading the U.S. Department of Energy at an embassy abroad

“I can really dig into each class and engage with the applied rigor and still reply to the demands of my job,” says radiation health physics student Heather Bell, pictured above.

By Julie Cooper
October 30, 2018

Heather Bell’s decision to return to school doesn’t only serve her own best interests by providing a new scientific skill set to advance her career – her expanding expertise will also result in stronger global nuclear policy and protection.

Yes, you read that correctly. Her job is that important.

Heather is the director of the United States Department of Energy in the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine. There, she acts as a representative and liaison between the two governments and collaborates to ensure that projects addressing nuclear nonproliferation, energy and environmental challenges align with U.S. policy.

She formerly held the same title in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, Russia, and worked nearly eight years at the National Nuclear Security Administration, including three years in Beijing, China.

Her high-level positions have required her to shoulder a great deal of responsibility, but upon incidences of radiation detection in Europe, ambassadors and decision-makers started to bring questions to her about the implications for Americans living abroad.

It was then that she realized she didn’t have all the answers. Not yet.

With so many depending on her, Heather decided to pair her liberal arts background with a degree that would give her the foundational scientific knowledge she needed to better advise on critical issues of nuclear security.

For that, she turned to Oregon State University.

Oregon State’s radiation health physics (RHP) online master’s degree program, one of the most esteemed programs of its kind in the U.S., checked all the right boxes to elevate Heather’s professional potential: a course load that would allow her to attend to the demands of her job, ties to a respected brick-and-mortar institution and a rigorous curriculum developed by expert faculty who are influential in radiation detection, protection and response.

An RHP degree: your ticket to a multifaceted career

Earn your radiation health physics degree and enter a specialized profession with career paths in environmental protection, medical care, nuclear reactor sites, national laboratories, private consulting and more.

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“A lot of them (Oregon State RHP faculty) work with our national laboratories and work on Department of Energy programs already, so having those connections there and being able to undertake the studies while I was based anywhere overseas was the big draw for me,” Heather says.

Her classroom has traveled with her from China to Russia, from Ukraine to Washington, D.C., and even to the very campus that influenced her decision to enroll online with Oregon State Ecampus.

The radiation health physics program offers intensive, one-week laboratory courses during summer on Oregon State’s Corvallis campus, where Heather and her classmates experience hands-on interaction with the lab materials.

“I really liked the fact that I could come to campus once a year for just one week and fit in enough coursework and lab work for a whole class,” she says.

Most careers dealing with nuclear energy and radiation require an advanced degree; with two education pathway options including a professional degree and a research-based science degree, Oregon State’s online RHP program prepares its students for a variety of advanced careers in fields such as security, national defense, medical health and safety.

For Heather, the rigor of the program is an exciting challenge to be conquered on the road to her expanded career potential.

“I do probably have to work a little bit harder to dig up some background on things so I can understand it, but I’ve kept pace,” Heather says. “The way the classes here are structured, it’s never more than you can handle at once. Being able to reach out to faculty members or even my fellow classmates and ask them for help has been very crucial.”

Now she’s able to draw from not only her growing expertise but also that of a greater community of learners and professionals to answer the pressing questions she’s faced with on the front lines of global nuclear security.

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