Where are they now - Jay Pelchen (SPC 2002-07)
author: Lorrie Liston
The College recently reconnected with Jay Pelchen (SPC 2002-07) who shares how picking up a magazine in the school library led him on a career pathway which has this year taken him to Europe to work with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.
Where has life taken you since leaving SPC?
In Year 12, I read an article about new forms of nuclear power and how they could offer a potential solution to global energy shortages and carbon emissions. This article inspired me to pursue a career in nuclear technology so after St Patrick’s, I moved to Melbourne to study Engineering and Science at Monash University. While there, I tailored my degree towards all things nuclear and in my final year collaborated with the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) to research materials for the walls of these new nuclear reactors.
I got a job after uni as a Scientific Analyst with the Department of Defence in Canberra, my first introduction to the world of Counter Proliferation. My job required me to look at global scientific developments and identify how they could be used by rogue countries to develop nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons have the potential to cause large‑scale, indiscriminate destruction so Australia is a strong supporter of international efforts to prevent the spread of related technologies.
I was lucky enough to complete a Masters of Nuclear Science at the Australian National University while at Defence, allowing me to deepen my expertise on nuclear-related technologies and conduct some additional research with ANSTO.
After six years with Defence, I accepted an analyst position at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. The IAEA is the United Nation’s centre for promoting the peaceful use of nuclear technology and inspecting countries worldwide to ensure that nuclear technology is used for exclusively peaceful purposes. This new role will be an exciting opportunity to contribute to an international organisation and explore Europe, a new chapter in the journey that all started with a magazine in the St Patrick’s library in 2007.
What are your fondest memories of your time at SPC?
I loved the camaraderie of Year 12. Despite their differences, all the year level subgroups came together in our final year to celebrate boat race, graduation and speech night. War cries are particularly good at bringing everyone together, even at our 10-Year reunion!
Travelling to Wadeye in the Northern Territory with Art Nichols and a small group of classmates to help out at an indigenous community was eye-opening. Everyone helped with tutoring in the classrooms and pulled on the footy boots for the odd game with the locals. It was confronting to see such poverty in our own country but an enlightening experience to see such a different way of life.
Weekly trips with Danny Moore and Les Bone to help tutor refugee children at St Albans were humbling and hammered home that we had things pretty good back in Ballarat.
Playing hockey, soccer and even croquet with mates during after-school sport provided a great opportunity to experience a wide variety of new sports while hanging out with mates.
Which teacher has had the greatest impact on you? Why?
I had some fantastic teachers while at SPC but six left a particularly lasting impression on me:
Danny Moore – Mr Moore went above and beyond the expectations of the classroom to teach students the ethics of real-world issues. Danny spent countless hours teaching us about evolving issues, instilling social justice values through discussion, debate and visits to hear peoples’ experiences firsthand.
Art Nichols – Mr Nichols showed students what a good person should look like and how treating others with respect and being kind to everyone around you makes the world a better place.
Howard Clark – A walking inspiration machine! Mr Clark stepped in at a crucial time in my schooling and inspired me to challenge myself, a lesson I still try to remember today.
Les Bone – Mr Bone inspired me to go into mechanical engineering rather than straight science. Being able to apply scientific concepts to real world problems has been vital to my jobs at Defence and the IAEA.
Sara Taylor – In her English Literature classes, Mrs Taylor taught us how to tease meaning out of even the shortest passages of text, a skill that I never knew would be so valuable until I started my role as a scientific analyst.
Kieran Baxter – Mr Baxter showed students the benefits of being passionate about your chosen subject matter. His passion made Australian History come to life, I will forever remember him walking along the corridor with a trench helmet on and an antique rifle slung across his shoulder.
How has your education shaped your professional life?
St Patrick’s College provided the academic foundation for my future study but also taught me so much about life beyond the classroom. The school is well known for instilling a love of getting outdoors and playing some sport, but of most use professionally was the school’s constant encouragement to broaden beyond the subjects studied in the classroom – be that trying to understand the complexities of social issues or interacting with people from different backgrounds. The broad approach to learning that started back at St Patrick’s has been crucial in my work for interacting with a broad range of customers, from scientists and engineers through to military personnel and diplomats.
How has your time at SPC shaped your personal values and your family life?
I always felt welcome at St Patrick’s despite being a non-Catholic Christian and the school did a great job at instilling Christian values in students. Assisting at soup kitchens and debating human rights issues taught me the importance of trying to see another’s perspective and ingrained the need to work for the benefit of others in addition to your own family and friends. Many of the academic lessons I learned at school have been pushed out by more recent information but I still regularly draw upon the core values that were taught during my time at St Patrick’s as I try to grasp why things are happening in the world.
If you could pass on one message to the students of today, what would it be?
The little things add up! Kind actions, better organisation and a little extra work all accumulate to enrich your life and the lives of those around you. Similarly, negative interactions will drag you and others down. Do everything you can to enrich, even if it seems small or insignificant. An unexpected message to a mate or an extra five minutes of study might not seem much but they can make all the difference.