Materials scientist joins 2019 class of 40 Under Forty honorees

By Valerie Alba

Photography By Randy Montoya

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Olivia Underwood
THAT’S A BIG 4-0 — Materials scientist Olivia Underwood recently was inducted in the 2019 class of Albuquerque Business First’s 40 Under Forty. “Being the change that I want to see and having great mentors have all contributed to me staying at the top of my game,” she said.

It’s only April, but 2019 is shaping up to be a big year of professional recognition for materials scientist Olivia Underwood. She recently was named to this year’s class of Albuquerque Business First’s 40 Under Forty honorees.

Now in its 18th year, 40 Under Forty honors young professionals from around New Mexico. Community leaders judge nominations submitted by the public, evaluating the nominees on their professional achievement, leadership and community involvement, according to the program’s website. The top 40 nominees are profiled in Albuquerque Business First and recognized at a dinner ceremony in May.

“This award confirms that my hard work has been validated by my community, peers and Albuquerque Business First,” Olivia said.

With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in metallurgical engineering from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and a doctorate in materials science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Olivia is a first-generation college graduate. In 2015, she became the first African-American to earn a materials science doctorate at the Huntsville campus.

Olivia started at Sandia as a postdoctoral appointee, and now as a product realization team lead, she manages the technical and programmatic aspects for components throughout the product lifecycle.

Olivia has a passion for inspiring students to pursue science, technology, engineering and math studies and careers. She volunteers as an instructor with Sandia’s Hands-On, Minds-On Technologies program, an initiative of the Black Leadership Committee that sparks middle and high school students’ interest in STEM through hands-on activities. She’s also the outreach co-chair of the Sandia Women’s Action Network, and last year she established the Dr. Olivia D. Underwood Scholarship at her alma mater, Bibb County High School in Alabama, to help female African-American students pursue STEM degrees.

Olivia’s work has drawn the attention of other organizations as well. This year she has received the 2019 Black Engineer of the Year Award as Science Spectrum Trailblazer, and the 2019 Frank Crossley Diversity Award from the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society.

“My goal is to always leave every person and space that I encounter better than I found them,” she said. “My focus areas for the future are to help to ensure that we have a more inclusive environment at the lab, to improve the onboarding process, to increase the number of minorities in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics field and to also change the face of STEM.”

Sandia employees frequently appear on the 40 Under Forty list. Previous honorees include Valerie Peyton, manager of Travel and Treasury Services; procurement managers Jake Sena and James Burt; Fabian Aragon, business management manager; Isaac Romero, senior manager; Katie Esquibel, project controller; Kenneth Armijo, energy researcher; Rafael Antonio Gonzalez, operations manager; and Jonathan Madison, materials scientist.