Students in service: Joshua McCumber

By Joshua McCumber, edited by Caroline Osterman

The UC Berkeley Master of Engineering program boasts a diverse cohort of students hailing from all different backgrounds, and among these are a handful of students who have previously served in the US military. These student veterans have gained impressive experience in a variety of engineering fields prior to coming to study at Berkeley, and we thank them for their service to the United States.

Joshua McCumber is a full-time Class of 2018 MEng student in the Nuclear Engineering department. Joshua’s narrative is part of our series documenting student veterans at the Fung Institute.


My name is Joshua McCumber and I am an MEng candidate in Nuclear Engineering at UC Berkeley. I served 8 ½ years from 2008 to 2016.

Joshua at his graduation from Naval Nuclear Power Training Command.

Previously, my role in the military was in Nuclear Engineering under the naval enlisted codes 3354 / 3364 / 95PT / 4674. I was a Naval Nuclear Electricians Mate on Ohio class trident ballistic missile submarines. As an NCO I became a Nuclear Supervisor for the nuclear engineering and propulsion plant as well as a divisional LPO (leading petty officer). Additionally, I performed advanced electronics engineering as an 6L16 Electrolytic Oxygen Generator Technician.

Educationally, a large part of my academic career comes from the military. I attended California State University, Chico majoring in electronics and electrical engineering and left for the military after my first year. Much of my initial education in nuclear engineering came from NNPTC or Naval Nuclear Power Training Command, a series of schools in Charleston South Carolina at Naval Weapons Station Charleston. I performed some coursework through the Thomas Edison State University program for Nuclear Engineering Technology and NCPACE (Navy College Program for Afloat College Education).

Educationally, large part of my academic career comes from the military.

I received my Bachelors of Science from Excelsior College in Albany, New York in Nuclear Engineering Technology in 2016. My engineering interests focus around those disciplines involved in the operation of a nuclear power plant. I have done extensive rotations in electrical, mechanical, systems, and chemical engineering on S5W (Westinghouse) pressurized water reactor (PWR) plants, S8G (General Electric) PWRs, and am currently the Lead Nuclear Test Engineer for research and development at the Nuclear Test Reactor at Vallecitos Atomic Laboratories.

The subject in testing for Joshua’s capstone project: a nuclear fusion, deuterium plasma-based neutron generator.

The Master of Engineering program through the UC Berkeley College of Engineering and the Fung Institute has been an amazing experience. Initially, the draw to the program for myself was the discipline (not too many schools offer Nuclear Engineering) combined with the amazing reputation and history of the school and department. Furthermore, I had reached out to some prior military naval engineers with a similar background who had attended the same program (MEng in Nuclear Engineering) at UC Berkeley a couple of years ago.

I was accepted to four schools in the Northern California Bay Area, but after talking with someone who had been through the program and who came from my background, UC Berkeley was my number one choice. (It was my number one choice before — this just solidified my position!) The added components of engineering leadership through the Fung Institute allowed for a wonderful breadth of exposure to engineering leadership, entrepreneurship, and engineering finance. My experience at UC Berkeley has been amazing. I have worked full time while attending school full time at UC Berkeley as well as pursuing a part-time MBA through my alma mater, so I have almost no spare time. It has been a long year, but well worth it. Exposure to the realm of academia accessible at UC Berkeley has been a life-changing experience.

The added components of engineering leadership through the Fung Institute allowed for a wonderful breadth of exposure to engineering leadership, entrepreneurship, and engineering finance.

My master’s capstone project is in the exploration, design, construction, and testing of a nuclear fusion, deuterium plasma-based neutron generator as well as radioisotope production and transport methods (i.e. ligand transport, chelation, etc.) and economic feasibility studies of launching a startup company with this technology. This includes the development of newer irradiation techniques and design upgrades for medical radionuclide production (therapeutic and diagnostic) and exploration of relevant nuclear data needs (for novel radioisotopes) as well as those currently in use such as standard radionuclides for SPECT/PET testing and nuclear medicinal therapeutics.

This work has been very fulfilling and has the added benefit of being quite impactful, with our project coming on the heels of the recent shut down of the Chalk-River nuclear power plant (March 31, 2018), which produced roughly 50% of the North American radioisotope supply and 30% of the world supply. The research experience has been amazing and almost impossible to equate to a similar military experience. Academia has provided me with a renewed love and passion for Nuclear Engineering.

Joshua (left) pictured with his capstone team, which is working to commercialize technology that uses nuclear fusion to generate neutrons.

After graduation from the UC Berkeley Fung Institute for Engineering Leadership, I plan on continuing to work in nuclear R&D at my current position. I have been accepted and will attend John’s Hopkins University in the fall in their graduate program for applied physics with a concentration in photonics as well as a distance graduate program through Missouri University of Science and Technology in explosives engineering. I plan to apply to doctoral programs in nuclear engineering (especially at UC Berkeley) for 2019 and I owe a large part of my success to the wonderful staff, students, professors, and researchers that I have had the profound good fortune of working with.


Joshua’s MEng capstone project, “An Overdue Change for Medical Isotopes,” is available to view on YouTube.

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