Nuclear waste management leader, cyber assurance architect honored by national Hispanic organization
Two experts at Sandia have been honored for their achievements and leadership as top engineers and scientists from the Hispanic community.
Evaristo “Tito” Bonano, senior manager of nuclear energy fuel cycle, and Angela “Ang” Rivas, cyber assurance architect, were recognized at the 32nd annual Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Conference by Great Minds in STEM.
Tito received a Lifetime Achievement award and Ang received a Luminary award during the society’s annual conference in September, held virtually this year. To date, 43 Sandia employees have been recognized at HENAAC since 1994.
Tito Bonano: Lifetime Achievement award
Throughout his 37-year career, Tito has focused on the safety-related issues of nuclear technology, nuclear waste management and nuclear waste disposal, working to provide solutions for the safe disposal of highly radioactive nuclear waste. Early in his career, he worked as a researcher at Sandia and other institutions, and then became a small-business owner before coming back to Sandia to take on technical and managerial leadership roles.
In 2006, DOE designated Sandia as the lead laboratory on the Yucca Mountain Project, which sought to permanently dispose of high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel from both commercial and national defense use. Tito was elected to lead the preparation of the portion of the license application that described the work of hundreds of engineers and scientists from multiple laboratories, universities and private companies to demonstrate that spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste could be disposed of deep inside the Earth while protecting the health and safety of humans and the environment for tens of thousands of years.
“Having the opportunity to lead this critically important, complex effort and completing the license application in June 2008, which represented the culmination of over 30 years of work by hundreds of scientists and engineers from numerous organizations, is, without any doubt or reservation, the highlight of my professional career and an accomplishment that I will always be extremely proud of,” Tito said.
After the Nuclear Regulatory Commission accepted the license application, federal funding was withdrawn from Yucca Mountain in 2011, and the site has not progressed.
In his current role at Sandia, Tito oversees research in nuclear waste disposal while also directing programs in safety analysis for space launch missions, small modular reactors, advanced energy conversion systems, fuel cycle systems engineering and analysis, storage and transportation of nuclear waste, and advanced modeling and simulation.
“Tito’s visionary leadership has grown Sandia’s nuclear effort substantially, despite a nationwide lull in nuclear power generation and nuclear waste disposal over the past 10 years,” said Labs Director James S. Peery. “Tito has positioned Sandia as the nation’s, and arguably the world’s, premier nuclear waste disposal research organization, a trusted technical adviser to DOE and a leading contributor to national and international nuclear waste disposal efforts in Australia, South Korea, at the International Atomic Energy Association in Vienna, Austria, and the Nuclear Energy Agency.”
Tito also has worked to build partnerships with Hispanic-serving universities to increase the pipeline of Hispanic engineers to Sandia.
Tito said that throughout his career, he learned much from others who mentored him, and he feels an obligation and a responsibility to share his experiences and lessons learned with those who will follow him.
“Knowledge transfer has become my passion at this point in my career, and there are four basic principles that have served me well, personally and professionally, that I want to share with the next generation of STEM professionals: have passion for and believe in what you do; always act with integrity regardless of the circumstances; never assume you know it all — respect and value the opinions of others; and always give credit to those you work with, for your accomplishments would not be possible without them,” he said.
Beyond mentoring and sharing his own experiences, Tito has set up a formal knowledge transfer program at Sandia to ensure that scientific and analytical expertise is passed on from one generation of engineers to the next.
“Tito’s vision has resulted in the creation of a state-of-the-art knowledge management program at Sandia,” said Rod McCullum, senior director of decommissioning and used fuel for the Nuclear Energy Institute, in his recommendation letter.
“His realization that continued government inaction will likely push the quest for a nuclear waste solution forward to yet another generation has led him to turn his dedication towards assuring that all of the scientific and analytical expertise that this generation has developed will remain available to those that follow,” Rod said. “Eventually, the U.S. will solve its nuclear waste problem. It cannot be known whether or not the world will then truly appreciate the role that Tito had in making this possible.”
Tito was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez, with a degree in chemical engineering. He earned his master’s degree and doctorate in chemical engineering from Clarkson University, focusing on transport phenomena.
Ang Rivas: Luminary award
Ang grew up in a multigenerational household in Albuquerque’s South Valley, where she said they had “no money, but lots of love.” She worked hard in school, taking college classes while still in high school and graduating when she was 16.
Ang pursued a triple major in technical communications, electrical engineering and computer science at New Mexico Tech. Shortly after her grandmother died, Ang focused on working to help support her family and be more financially secure. She first joined Sandia as an intern and then became an intellectual property administrator while taking classes at Central New Mexico Community College.
Ang said that for years, Sandia’s flexible and stable work environment enabled her to take care of her family. She continued her studies while working and earned a bachelor’s degree in technical communication from Arizona State University.
“My journey at Sandia has been a little nontraditional,” Ang said. “I like to help remind kids that they don’t have to take a linear journey from school to college to a career. It’s easier that way, but having been on a zigzag journey myself, I tell them you can figure things out as you go along, and you can get back on track when obstacles come your way. Don’t give up.”
Currently, Ang leads software security awareness and training. She has developed a training course on software security awareness, best practices and supply chain risk for members of software development teams, nuclear weapons engineers and cybersecurity professionals. She also has led and contributed to threat modeling engagements and found ways to incorporate her team’s software security expertise into internal review boards for software design and architecture.
“Angela Rivas is one of the most talented, motivated, versatile and team-oriented persons I have met in my 32+ years at Sandia,” said Joselyne Gallegos, senior manager of data and software security. “These characteristics make her a natural leader, one whom managers and experienced staff respect and listen to. No matter what role she is in, Ang redefines the role to be broader and more impactful than what is initially presented to her, subsequently demonstrating new and exciting possibilities.”
Ang proposed and established a pilot program at Sandia to develop software security champions throughout the Labs and has helped build relationships with other national laboratories that are developing software security programs.
“She has demonstrated passion and talent for data and software security, finding new and innovative ways to propel the program forward and inform its best practices for integrating security earlier into the software development lifecycle,” said Labs Director James S. Peery. “She is a dedicated engineer and natural leader with a bright future ahead of her.”
While continuing to grow in her career at Sandia, Ang is studying for a master’s degree in cyber- security at New York University.
Ang said that when she has had to make big decisions about her career and job opportunities, she remembers the advice of her late uncle, who was like a father to her. He encouraged her to be fearless, telling her “you can do anything.” She said this advice has encouraged her to branch out and embrace new opportunities.
Outside of her work at Sandia, Ang has a passion for community service and mentoring. Last year, she was sworn in as a court-appointed special advocate volunteer with NM Kids Matter. She volunteers with multiple organizations to mentor young people in underserved communities and has been heavily involved with United Way of Central New Mexico’s Community Fund allocation panels and affinity groups. Ang also has volunteered at STEM events at schools and community centers in Albuquerque’s South Valley.