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Rachel Slaybaugh
November 9, 2023

Rachel Slaybaugh: 2023 Early Career Award recipient

Written By: Staff


Rachel Slaybaugh
MSNEEP ’08, PhDNEEP and EAP ’11 (BSNE ’06, Pennsylvania State University)
Partner, DCVC

Rachel is a nuclear engineer and champion for innovation across the nuclear energy sector who is leveraging a passion for enabling clean energy technology development to advocate for a just clean-energy transition.

How did your experience in the College of Engineering influence your career path?

Tremendously. I got a PhD from a strong program and a reputable institution that gave me the credential that allowed me to get the next job. One of the reasons I picked Wisconsin and that I did find valuable is my PhD program had curriculum breadth requirements, which isn’t super common. That helped make sure I had a robust understanding of the field. I also had the opportunity to do the certificate in energy analysis and policy—again, broader courses that made me a more prepared and flexible professional. My career has, in fact, turned out to be quite broad.

How did your engineering education enable your success?

I went on to become a professor—and maybe I was destined to become a professor, at least for a little while, because I’d kept all my course notes. That was really helpful in getting started. I maintained relationships with a lot of my professors. I still collaborate with Paul Wilson. We serve on a board together for a nonprofit I co-founded called Good Energy Collective. And then Doug Henderson, for the radiation transport graduate class. That was the area that I specialized in. He did a really good job of going through things in detail, so that you could actually figure out what was happening in this complex mathematics.

Give us a few highlights of your professional career.

I was a tenured professor at Berkeley in nuclear engineering. I was a program director at ARPA-E, which is an office in the Department of Energy. I served on the Biden-Harris transition team as part of the Department of Energy Agency Review Team. And I co-founded the Good Energy Collective.

Of what professional accomplishment are you most proud?

At this point, I’m most proud of one of my ARPA-E programs, called the GEMINA Program. At the time, the nuclear innovation bootcamp was definitely the thing I was most proud of. It was pretty outside of my comfort zone. It needed to happen. Nuclear was starting to have these startups. And moving to the Bay Area, where so many people are in that ecosystem, I realized there was this whole world that most people in nuclear didn’t have exposure to. I wanted to connect those dots so that people could start having some of that conversation. I had never considered myself innovative or that I could have worked in a startup. Then I got to Silicon Valley and realized I totally have all the skills and experience, and I could be part of this world.

What do you like best?

Winter or summer in Madison?

Fun on the Terrace or fun on Lake Mendota?
The Terrace.

Bascom Hill or Observatory Hill?

State Street or the Lakeshore Path?
Lakeshore Path.

UW Arboretum or Picnic Point?
I want to say both but … Arboretum.

Flamingos or Badgers?

Orange custard chocolate chip or anything else?
Definitely the orange custard chocolate chip; it’s so distinctive.