VCU engineering pioneer appointed director general of the World Nuclear Association

Sama Bilbao y León helped make VCU’s nuclear engineering program the most comprehensive in the state. Now she will head one of the nuclear industry’s largest international organizations.

Sama Bilbao y León. [View Image] Sama Bilbao y León leaves VCU after spending more than a decade growing the university’s nuclear engineering program. (Photo courtesy VCU Engineering)

Sama Bilbao y León, Ph.D., a longtime professor of mechanical and nuclear engineering in the Virginia Commonwealth University College of Engineering, has been appointed director general of the World Nuclear Association. Headquartered in London, the WNA is the largest international organization that supports the global nuclear industry. 

Bilbao y León will officially begin the role at the end of the month. As director general, she will oversee the agencys mission to promote a wider understanding of nuclear energy among key international influencers. She leaves VCU after spending more than a decade growing the university’s nuclear engineering program.

Bilbao y Leóns association with VCUs mechanical and nuclear engineering program dates to 2007 when she was a nuclear safety analysis engineer with Dominion Energy and taught the universitys first nuclear engineering course.

While I very much look forward to the opportunity to lead WNA, I do not want to lose my connection to VCUs nuclear engineering program, the faculty, the students and the alumni,” said Bilbao y León, who will continue to serve on VCU's nuclear engineering advisory board. I am incredibly proud of the great achievements of this program and would love to contribute in any way I can.”  Sama Bilbao y León with V C U nuclear engineering students. [View Image]
Bilbao y León with VCU nuclear engineering students Meredith Eaheart, Sarah Strickler, Daniell Tinscher and Sarah Morgan in April 2019, when VCU Engineering hosted the national American Nuclear Society collegiate conference. (Photo courtesy VCU Engineering)

After two appointments with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Austria, Bilbao y León returned to VCU Engineering full time in 2011 as the first director of nuclear engineering programs. During her tenure, VCU became the only university in Virginia with bachelors, masters and doctoral programs in mechanical and nuclear engineering accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, making it the most comprehensive nuclear engineering program in the state.

Sama embodies the qualities that make her the ideal leader for the WNA. We were fortunate to have her as a member of our faculty,” said Barbara D. Boyan, Ph.D., the Alice T. and William H. Goodwin Jr. Dean of VCU Engineering.

“She brought real-world experience to her teaching, and students responded to her lectures and laboratory instruction with respect for her knowledge and her ability to convey complex concepts in tangible ways,” Boyan said. “It is in no small part due to her extraordinary work on our behalf that the College of Engineering is now home to a vibrant nuclear engineering program that has made VCU one of the nations premier institutions for preparing the workforce for this important source of clean energy.” 

Bilbao y León took a leave of absence from VCU in 2018 to serve as head of the Division of Nuclear Technology Development and Economics at the Nuclear Energy Agency in Paris. Before being named director general of the World Nuclear Association, she was planning to return to VCU Engineering at the end of her NEA appointment.

Sama is a natural leader with infectious enthusiasm. We were very fortunate to have her at the helm to launch our nuclear engineering programs, and we look forward to her continued counsel as a member of our advisory board,” said Gary C. Tepper, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering.

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