Sandia LabNews

Sandia Mentorship Program pays off for New Mexico Tech student, who finds a career through Sandia work

When Sandia scientist Tim Boyle (1846) met Bernadette �Bernie� Hernandez (1846) four years ago, she was a Rio Grande High School senior looking for a part-time job. What she found in Tim�s laboratory was a career.

Bernie applied to work at Sandia through the Career Enrichment Program (CEP), although she only had a vague interest in chemistry. She extended her one-semester position to a second semester and into the summer, building upon her solitary chemistry course at Rio Grande with on-the-job experience in Materials Processing Dept. 1846 at Sandia�s Advanced Materials Laboratory (AML).

�After he [Tim] interviewed me, he showed me the lab and it looked really awesome and fun. He knows how to capture a student�s interest, and he takes us along and teaches us,� Bernie says.

Tim fostered her newfound interest in inorganic chemistry, assigning Bernie to a project synthesizing lithium battery cathodes, used in rechargeable, environmentally safe batteries.

�I try to tailor the projects to the students� individual interests,� Tim says. �I also try to treat them like graduate students.�

This approach not only gave Bernie some valuable hands-on work experience, but her work with Tim and Sandia also fueled her decision to attend New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology after high school graduation.

Sandia hires some of the top high school students and undergraduate students from around the country to participate in a wide variety of summer and year-round programs. Bernie is one of 52 students, mainly from the Albuquerque area, currently working at the AML at Sandia.

�Bernie is a self-starter, and she can work through problems independently,� Tim says. �She�s extremely sharp and understands the science of what she�s doing. Working with her has been an extremely positive experience for us at Sandia as well.�

Bernie is a senior pursuing a chemistry degree at New Mexico Tech. Recently, she won a first-place award at the Eastern New Mexico University Research Conference. She competed against college seniors and graduate students with her presentation on the synthesis of �designer ligands� for controlling the properties of ceramic powders and thin films, based on work she had initiated while at Sandia. Some day these may be used in capacitors and in making nonvolatile memory for computers.

Says Bernie, �The most fun thing for me is making the products and seeing whether they work. It�s very challenging to balance school and work, but I feel fortunate that I was able to start out as a senior in high school. My work at Sandia has helped me focus on what I want to do in the future.� She is also responsible for initiating a collaborative program between Sandia and New Mexico Tech to promote undergraduate student research through the Sandia Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). One of her professors at New Mexico Tech, Mike Heagy, received a $35,000 award from Sandia to support three student positions, including Hernandez, and materials.

Tim says the high caliber of Bernie�s work at Sandia encouraged him to pursue the partnership with New Mexico Tech. Funding for the program may be renewed on an annual basis.

To date, Bernie has completed seven presentations and co-authored four publications. She also received a $5,000 American Chemical Society Scholarship for Outstanding Minority Students.

The eldest of six children, Bernie is a mentor to her middle school and high school-age siblings. She says they look to her for advice about which classes to take and with questions about school. The South Valley native attended Barcelona Elementary School and Harrison Middle School.