When David Pstrak ’85 thinks about his life journey from tuba-playing band nerd to senior project manager for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), he can only smile and shrug.
“Honestly, I think some of it was just luck,” says Pstrak. “I think it’s about embracing the opportunities that have come my way in life and being the right person at the right time. But there are times when I do wonder how I have done the things that I have been able to do.”
Life, as Pstrak has found out, sometimes just happens.
After graduating from CofC, Pstrak completed the rigorous nuclear training program at the Charleston Naval Shipyard. He worked there until 1993, when he landed a job in the private sector as an instructor for the packaging, transportation and disposal of nuclear material. Part of his responsibilities included training upper management personnel at the NRC on the transportation regulations for nuclear material. The NRC was so impressed with his work that the agency created a project manager position for him at its headquarters in Rockville, Maryland.
From there, Pstrak began to build an international reputation as a leader in packaging and transporting nuclear materials. In 2021, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, tapped him to be the chair of its Transport Safety Standards Committee (TRANSSC) – a six-year commitment. TRANSSC is responsible for developing the safety regulations used around the world for packaging and transporting radioactive materials.
“That was a huge honor for me,” he says. “For the NRC and me to be recognized by an international agency like the IAEA is an incredible feather in all of our caps.”
One of five siblings to graduate from CofC, Pstrak credits his liberal arts education at the College, where he majored in geology while on a music scholarship, for helping him advance up the ladder of the NRC. His ability to communicate with his colleagues was vital in that ascendancy.
“The NRC is full of great engineers, and they speak in the language of engineering and math,” says Pstrak, who now works remotely from his new home in Brevard, North Carolina. “I think they liked me at the NRC because I could communicate at a different level. Speaking mathematics and speaking English are different languages.”
But it’s the language of music, perhaps, that brings Pstrak the most joy. His love of brass instruments began at an early age in Alexandria, Virginia. He was a fast study and hard worker and quickly earned a reputation as one of the area’s top young performers. He taught himself to play the tuba prior to his freshman year in high school in Charleston, and by the time he graduated, he was good enough to become the youngest member of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra. After moving to Maryland to work for the NRC, he became a member of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens marching band.
“Playing in front of 75,000 screaming fans was a thrill of a lifetime,” says Pstrak, who still performs with bands and orchestras in Brevard. “Playing music has brought much joy in my life.”
Some people are just lucky.