Sandia LabNews

Helping young women visualize their futures in math and science

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GATHERED FOR GIRLS — Sandia Women’s Connection celebrated more than 30 young women for their passion for STEM at the 32nd Annual Math and Science Awards, April 20, in the Sandia California auditorium.

If there was a theme to the 32nd Annual Sandia Women’s Connection Math and Science Awards, it was how important the people around the young scholars are to their futures.

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FOUNDATIONAL — Associate Labs Director Andy McIlroy welcomed more than 70 people to the awards, taking time to especially thank the adults who supported the young scholars.

The Sandia Women’s Connection celebrated more than 30 girls, all juniors in high school, who display a genuine love and passion for science and math. They were nominated by their teachers for the award, which includes time with a Sandia mentor. Sandia Women’s Connection co-chairs Pam Lober and Kimberley Mac Donald welcomed the crowd to the Sandia California auditorium for the in-person event on April 20. Kim told the more than 70 people in attendance, including teachers and family, that each scholar had proven that they were after more than good grades.

“Many of you have demonstrated an exceptional understanding of class material through your projects, passions and desire to learn and grow,” she said. “You have a deep intellectual curiosity and are persistent in the face of challenges. Your nominators have also noticed that you are leaders, team players, and kind and caring young women. They see your potential to be amazing and accomplished scientists as well as respected and valuable colleagues.”

Encouraging the next generation

Sandia Women’s Connection Director Champion Craig Tewell explained why the Math and Science Awards are vital to encourage the students who win each year.

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NEXT GENERATION — More than 70 young women, their families and mentors turned out for the Sandia Women’s Connection Math and Science Awards on April 20.

“When we look at chemical and mechanical engineering, mathematics, physics and computer science, there remains a very significant gap in the number of women in these fields versus men — particularly in senior positions,” Craig said. “We hope to highlight for young women their potential in the areas of science and math and introduce them to successful Sandia women scientists and engineers, as well as to our vibrant internship program. Through these introductions, we also hope to illustrate some of the many careers available in math and science.”

Craig went on to explain that Sandia specifically honors young women during their junior year of high school so they can highlight the awards when they are applying for college admissions and scholarships.

Blazing your own trail

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WAYFINDER — Keynote speaker Raquel Hakes Weston-Dawkes encouraged all the young women in attendance at the 2023 Sandia Women’s Connection Math and Science Awards to stay curious and bravely follow their own path.

Keynote speaker Raquel Hakes Weston-Dawkes traced her academic path from a teenager who wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life and career to finding a passion for fire from a college mentor and finally joining Sandia in 2021. Raquel started her work in thermal and fluid science and engineering, using experimental data and computational modeling to understand the behavior of fire.

“When I was a sophomore in college, a new professor started in my department and his lab was doing wildfire research. I didn’t really know what research entailed, but I thought wildfires were super cool, and I totally understood why studying them mattered,” Raquel said. “About a year after this initial research experience in college, I was accepted into the joint bachelor’s-master’s program, and I had the option to do research for the master’s. It was a different project, so I was willing to give it a try, figuring it might give me skills or open up opportunities to other things I liked.”

Trusting yourself

Raquel told the students that she discovered just how much she liked being part of the entire research process — figuring out what the problem is, designing how to study it or solve it and analyzing the data that came from the inquiry.

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GROWING STEM — The beneficiaries of the Sandia Women’s Connection Math and Science Awards received the chance to speak with successful woman Sandian scientists as part of their prize.

“This is the biggest piece of advice I can give to you: try things,” she said. “I don’t mean the things you have no interest in or things you only do because you’ve heard that’s what you should do, but all those other things that seem like they might be cool but you’re really not sure. I do want to acknowledge that trying things means being uncomfortable. It means failing sometimes. It might mean you try something you thought you’d like and find you don’t. But it also means that you might just find the things you didn’t know really sparked something for you.”

The girls got a chance to ask Raquel a few questions after her presentation. The question that struck her most came from a student who wanted to know how to learn to trust your instincts.

“It struck me for two reasons,” she said. “Partially, because I think it’s very difficult, and I was glad one of the students honed in on that. But also, because I think there is so much out there about the ‘right’ way to do things. That’s a skill many of us have to practice: going against conventional wisdom and trusting yourself.”

Commitment to expanding opportunities for women

Associate Labs Director Andy McIlroy told the assemblage that the Labs’ commitment to the girls goes beyond the awards.

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WINNERS — The Sandia Women’s Connection honored more than 30 high school juniors for their interest in math and science.

“At Sandia, we are committed to increasing our leadership and overall diversity as we move forward,” he said. “One pathway for supporting inclusion and diversity at Sandia is through our educational opportunities. I’m delighted that you are hearing from several of our women leaders at Sandia tonight and that you have had the opportunity to meet some of them. I hope that their stories about their career journeys will excite and encourage you as you continue on your own paths in math and science.”

Each speaker also took time to thank the educators, parents and guardians who supported, advised and inspired the scholars, recognizing that their path would be much more difficult without them.

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