News

Distinguished alumni

By Sue Major Holmes

Friday, October 27, 2017

Two Sandians honored by University of New Mexico engineering school

The University of New Mexico School of Engineering has named two Sandia engineers as distinguished alumni for 2017.

Ireena Erteza was honored for electrical and computer engineering and Kenneth Armijo was selected for mechanical engineering. They will be recognized at an awards dinner Nov. 2.

The Distinguished Alumni Award, the School of Engineering’s highest honor, goes to graduates whose outstanding professional work represents UNM and the School of Engineering in a positive and exemplary manner and who have made important contributions to their fields of expertise.

Ireena Erteza wanted to be an engineer from young age

Ireena Erteza
Ireena Erteza

Ireena, who joined Sandia in 1993, loved math and science from a very young age. She says that as she grew older, “I realized engineering was a wonderful way to combine my love of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] with my love for creating things. I also knew early on, eighth grade, that I wanted to do research.”

She learned about the UNM honor in a phone call from Christos Christodoulou, the school’s Jim and Ellen King dean of engineering and computing. “It means a lot to get this recognition from my undergraduate institution,” she says. “It feels like a celebration of my engineering career that started 35 years ago with my undergraduate studies at UNM. I have had an amazingly fun and fulfilling career, and it is a great feeling to be honored in this way.”

Ireena earned a Bachelor of Science summa cum laude in electrical engineering from UNM in 1986 and was awarded the Breece Award for Academic Excellence for the highest standing among graduating engineers that year. She went on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering from Stanford University. She has a special connection to engineering at UNM since her father, the late Ahmed Erteza, was a professor in the electrical and computer engineering department from 1957 to 1983.

She originally specialized in optics and optical signal processing at Sandia but moved into other research, establishing expertise in radiation effects on optical processing systems, unattended ground sensor signal processing, synthetic aperture radar signal processing and algorithm development, and high performance computing.

This year, Ireena was named Asian American Engineer of the Year, a national award that honors outstanding Asian American professionals in engineering for technical achievements, leadership, and public service.

Kenneth Armijo’s interest in space led him to engineering

Kenneth Armijo

Kenneth has been with Sandia about eight years, including time as a postdoctoral appointee and as a student intern. He says he was surprised, excited, and honored to be recognized. 

“I feel honored as UNM really set me on my career path,” he says. He’d been offered a track scholarship at another school, but decided not to go the sports route. UNM’s School of Engineering had a NASA Training Project, which he credits with helping get him a NASA internship in his sophomore year.

He originally planned to major in astrophysics because of his interest in astronauts, space, and space vehicles while growing up in the small farming community of Sabinal in central New Mexico. But because of the internship, he decided he wanted to build the vehicles and develop the technology that helps astrophysicists. “I thought engineering was more fun,” he says.

Kenneth earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in mathematics from UNM in 2005. He then earned a master’s degree and a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, with business credentials from Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. At Sandia, his research consists of computational and experimental research involving molten metals and salts, falling particle receivers, and arc-fault plasma reliability physics pertaining to photovoltaic technologies and reliability research.

“The best part of being an engineer is it teaches you to address challenges and gives you a very substantive approach to address virtually any issue,” Kenneth says. “It’s nice at Sandia to get to address the most difficult challenges facing the nation. UNM gives you that mindset to address the hard problems.”