Three friends shaping the future through mentoring, outreach
Fabian Aragon, Isaac Romero, and James Burt have a lot in common, but each makes a unique impact at the Labs and in the community. All three started at Sandia as interns for Div. 10000 from the University of New Mexico and share a passion for mentoring and outreach. Now they’ve found even more common ground — all three have been named to Albuquerque Business First’s 2017 40 under Forty list based on their professional achievement, contributions to the community, and leadership skills.
“We didn’t know each other in school, but all of us have gotten to be good work friends,” Fabian says. “We all get along really well, and we all look out for each other. I’m very proud to get to work alongside Isaac and James in the different roles we serve.”
Fabian Aragon: Hooked on business
Fabian Aragon (10661) manages the Center 6100 and Center 6900 business operations departments, which are responsible for financial management, project management, and supply chain management. He holds a BBA in accounting and a master of accounting from UNM and has worked at Sandia for 13 years.
Fabian started school as a computer science student, but after taking an economics class he was hooked on business. He says the people and the mission make him proud to work at Sandia.
Sandia is not a cutthroat corporate culture — we look out for each other . . .
“Sandia is not a cutthroat corporate culture — we look out for each other, we respect each other, we team, and our corporate values really shine every day,” Fabian says. “In all of our jobs we get to enable Sandia’s mission of being a premier national security lab that makes the United States and the world a safer place. Every day I drive to work thinking how fortunate I am to be a part of this.”
Fabian also appreciates Div. 10000’s culture, saying it is strong in career growth and development opportunities with in-house training programs and mentoring. He currently mentors 20 early career employees and students and is passionate about helping others grow in their careers.
“There were two interns who were told at one point that they didn’t have what it takes to make it at Sandia, and they were close to leaving because of that,” Fabian says. “I reached out to them and provided mentoring, helped them get to a better place, and I’ve seen their careers thrive. It’s been really neat to see someone go from potentially leaving the Labs to being seen as one of our rising stars.”
Another stand-out moment for Fabian was seeing several of the people he’s mentored or managed this past year earn promotions or new job opportunities.
“I think in my early career what I’m most proud of is the growth and development of all the individuals I’ve either recruited, managed, or mentored,” Fabian says. “It’s my favorite thing about my job, whether I get to tell someone that they are being promoted, they’re going to make more money, or I get to hear about an achievement someone has had early in their career.”
In addition to his role as a center business operations manager, Fabian is the lead for Sandia’s year-round business student intern program and recruits on behalf of Sandia. He also works with UNM students doing mock interviews and resumé writing. He participates in Big Brothers Big Sisters and mentors a little brother. He’s also served as a judge for Business Professionals of America competitions and is on the council for the Hispanic Philanthropic Society.
Isaac Romero: A passion for numbers
Isaac Romero (10571) is the business manager for Sandia’s nuclear weapons PMU, managing all funding for weapons activities within the Labs and other business activities, including workforce planning and financial engagements with NNSA. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and an MBA in organizational development from UNM, and has worked at Sandia for 14 years.
Isaac says the impact of the work and the outreach makes him proud to work at Sandia.
One of the things that keeps me at Sandia is the shared sense of community and purpose . . .
“One of the things that keeps me at Sandia is the shared sense of community and purpose that Sandians have — the pride in the work that they do for our national security, and the pride that they have in giving back to the local community,” Isaac says. “We are involved in things that serve a greater purpose, both nationally and locally.”
Isaac has a passion for numbers, an enjoyment that takes him by surprise sometimes. Before deciding to study finance he also considered becoming a teacher. Through the years that interest has morphed into strong involvement in educational outreach.
“Being involved with people who are trying to better themselves and learn is something I’ve always enjoyed,” Isaac says. “That’s one of the reasons I love Sandia — the emphasis on continuing education that the Labs promotes really fits in to who I am as an individual. Being part of a company where you’re able — and encouraged — to give back makes you that much more passionate about the organization you are in.”
Isaac does roundtable mentoring at Polk Middle School, mentors through Big Brothers Big Sisters, and does mock interviews, tech talks, mentoring, and resume reviews for UNM students. He also sits on the Hispanic Philanthropy Board, the UNM Anderson Alumni Board, and UNM’s Beta Alpha Psi Advisory Board.
Isaac recalls working with a student at UNM who had applied to Sandia several times without passing the interview process. The student didn’t have any professional work experience and was not coming off as a polished candidate. Isaac coached the student, suggesting involvement with student organizations, and helped with mock interviews, resumé reviews, and network building.
“He eventually got hired on as a student intern, did really well, and was converted to staff,” Isaac says. “That’s really stood out to me, the ability to make an impact on someone’s life.”
Isaac has also enjoyed seeing his little brother from Big Brothers Big Sisters grow and set educational and professional goals.
“At first he didn’t know what he wanted to do, and now he wants to be a mechanical engineer,” Isaac says. “He’s starting to think of universities and he’s at a place where he’s thinking ‘OK, I can do this,’ and it’s really awesome to see.”
James Burt: Paying it forward
James Burt (10246) is a procurement manager with a 25-member department specializing in purchases under $150,000, which accounts for about $80 million of Sandia’s spending each year. He holds a bachelor’s degree in communications and an MBA from UNM and has worked at Sandia for 10 years. He is a Certified Professional in Supply Management and a Project Management Professional.
James started his career in advertising, but found he didn’t care for the industry and started considering his options. He heard about internships at the Labs through friends and says he stumbled into a great opportunity.
“I got kind of lucky. I think the job found me,” James says. “When I moved to Albuquerque I didn’t know Sandia existed, and when I applied for the internship I had to Wikipedia ‘procurement.’ But I just fell for it right away, I thought it was really cool.”
With the internship in mind, James applied for graduate school, scheduled his GMAT, and left his job as “a big shot account executive” in the span of the day, and hasn’t looked back.
“I had a wonderful mentor at Sandia, Randy Shibata,” James says. “I really expected to be making coffee for people, delivering packages, and filing papers. But Randy called me into his office on one of my first days and asked me what I wanted to do with my time here, and I told him I would love to get really good at this job. He showed me everything he could to help me grow, and I had a lot of unique opportunities as an intern. I got to travel, I got to work on some large contracts, and it totally exceeded my expectations. If not for the investment he made in me, I’m not sure any of this would have happened.”
James has been paying that support forward with community service, mentoring, and philanthropy. He says his primary responsibility is to develop people, and he loves seeing his staff reach their goals, both personally and professionally. He is a mentor to several early career professionals at Sandia, and he is a member of the Student Intern Evaluation Team for Div. 10000, which evaluates graduating interns for long-term positions in the business community.
Outside of Sandia, he volunteers with Shine, a non-profit sponsored by New City Church that partners with Albuquerque Public Schools to serve children. He also serves as a community mentor through the Big Brothers Big Sisters Community Mentor 2.0 program and is part of the United Way’s new affinity group Guys Give.
At Sandia your impact can actually be nationwide or global.
“We meet at breweries twice a month to talk about philanthropy and come up with different ways to help the community,” James says. “It’s fun because we are determining what we want to be about and what we want to do. We want to provide quick short-term help but also have some long-term moon-shot type goals.”
James says Guys Give recently helped Manzano Mesa Elementary School when the program that sends food home with students on the weekend did not receive their delivery on time. The school wasn’t going to have any food to give out, so Guys Give stepped in to meet the need. The group also did a sporting goods drive for the Boys and Girls club.
James says it’s an honor and privilege to be nominated and recognized, and he hopes that the result will be that other people are encouraged to try new things and get involved with the community.
“It’s important for people to be happy and find joy in what they do,” James says. “For me, it starts in my home, and moves into my neighborhood, then my community and my workplace. At Sandia your impact can actually be nationwide or global. I think we get the most satisfaction out of life when we can have an impact. Whatever that is, whatever your red rubber ball is going to be, find it and chase it.”