Sandia LabNews

Sandians Nancy Jackson and John Debassige honored with American Indian Science and Engineering awards

Sandians Nancy Jackson and John Debassige honored with American Indian Science and Engineering awards

Nancy Jackson (6901) did not always plan to major in chemistry. Political science was more her interest. John Debassige (2614) came to Sandia as an intern and fell in love with microsystems. They were notified recently that they are winners of 2nd Annual Professional of the Year AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society) awards. Nancy’s award is for Technical Excellence; John’s is for Most Promising Engineer.

Nancy spent several months working in her senator’s office on Capitol Hill and assisted in the campaign for a lieutenant governor candidate. She entered George Washington University intending to major in political science. Much to her disappointment, her first political science course wasn’t very interesting, but her general chemistry course stirred something in her.

She earned an advanced degree in chemical engineering at the University of Texas and discovered her love of research. Her catalysis research at Sandia involved producing liquid fuels from sources other than petroleum, such as coal, natural gas, and biomass.

As a member of the American Chemical Society, Nancy wrote the Catalysis Roadmap for the Vision 2020 project that laid out what research needed to be done to ensure the US chemical industry will continue to thrive in 2020. Her leadership in the Roadmap project led to funding that allowed Sandia to continue its catalysis research.

In her current position, Nancy supports Sandians who secure nuclear weapons and fissile radioactive material in Russia and elsewhere in the world and cooperative interaction with other countries to prevent conflict. Her job is, as she says, “as challenging as herding cats,” but she loves the multifaceted aspects of it.

John’s dad died when he was 12. He and his three siblings did not have the little luxuries growing up that most kids today take for granted. Living in a single-parent family in rural San Rafael, N.M., what they had was plenty of work. Their mom worked long hours to support the family, so they helped her at home. His mom believed that doing good in school would be their ticket to a better life, so they worked hard to do their school work.

He attended the University of New Mexico after applying for every scholarship he came across. What scholarships did not cover, earnings from his part-time jobs did. John made sure to send money home to help his mother and the kids still at home. He attended UNM so he could be close to home and could still help out — put up the air conditioner, fix the car, whatever his mother needed.

He came to Sandia as an intern after meeting Laurence Brown (3825). John began working in the thin film, vacuum, and brazing area, and later for advanced diagnostics and structural dynamics. Then he discovered electromechanical engineering, and microsystems and MESA.

John was selected to participate in Sandia’s One-Year-On-Campus education program and earned his master of science in ten months at the University of Michigan. John is co-inventor on several US patents pending. The concepts he has developed for micro-mirrors and transistors are having an impact on Sandia’s MESA vision.

“I love my job,” says Nancy. “The most fulfilling part of it is using my skills and my contacts within the chemistry community to help American Indian students. Being able to use my success in the non-Indian world to help American Indians is what drives me.”

“My father was well known in his field ministry, too,” says Nancy, “working to bring a multicultural perspective to the non-Indian world and in turn use it to help American Indians. I try to carry on what he started. My mother taught me to be strong, self-disciplined, and to take care of myself so I could do the missions my father taught me to do.”

While staying on top of his regular duties, John also makes time to interact with community students through mentoring, recruiting, and involvement in various student organizations. In his spare time John and a partner buy and fix up houses to sell. “We just sold our first house to a family with six kids who had been living in apartments because they could not afford a house,” says John. “I can’t describe the feeling I had when I turned the keys over to them.”

“Part of the reason I have worked so hard to succeed is to help make sure my mother has a better life,” says John. “She worked so hard for us all her life, now that I am in a position to help her, I do all I can. She’s been my role model, not only because of how hard she worked to support our family, but because of what I learned from watching her – work hard, do things right, get along with people, connect with what is important in life. ”

Nancy and John will receive their awards at the AISES National Conference in Charlotte, N.C., on Nov. 4.