Renewable energy, mentoring leader receives Women in Technology Award

By Manette Newbold Fisher

Photography By Lonnie Anderson

Friday, July 02, 2021

Sandra Begay recognized for her work and advocacy

The New Mexico Technology Council honored Sandra Begay with a Women in Technology Award
TRAILBLAZER — Researcher Sandra Begay recently received a Women in Technology Award from the New Mexico Technology Council.

For many achievements in research, mentorship and community impact, the New Mexico Technology Council celebrated researcher Sandra Begay with a Women in Technology Award.

“I’m very honored to receive the Women in Technology award in my home state, and I appreciate the acknowledgement of my Sandia tribal energy work,” Sandra said.

According to the New Mexico Technology Council website, the annual awards recognize women who represent a variety of STEM industries and show exemplary commitment to mentorship and community impact. Sandra was selected as one of six Women in Technology honorees out of a pool of 49 nominations and 24 applications. An additional Emerging Leader Award was presented by the council for the first time this year.

Work with U.S. tribes, Indigenous interns drives engineer’s research

Sandra has been a Sandia engineer working primarily on renewable energy development for 29 years, many of them dedicated to positively impacting U.S. tribes. Nearly two decades ago, Sandra began providing technical assistance to the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority, which received federal funding to begin a program focused on a photovoltaic solar electric system for residential customers who were not connected to the electrical grid. With federal sponsorship, she was able to provide technical assistance to more than 15 U.S. tribes for 16 years.

“Sandra Begay’s impact at Sandia, in New Mexico and throughout the nation is incredible,” said Senior Manager of Business Development Mary Monson. “When our team discussed who to nominate for the Women in Technology Award, Sandra stood out because she uses research and technology to change lives. She is a trailblazer in renewable energy development in addition to being a leader to students and young professionals working to build careers in science.”

Sandra, a member of the Navajo Nation, mentored Indigenous Sandia interns through a program she created that was sponsored by Sandia and the Department of Energy’s Office of Indian Energy.

“Pride is an understatement when reflecting on my time with my former interns,” she said. “I keep track of their accomplishments and celebrate all of their endeavors. I started my tribal energy work with one Native woman intern and grew the program to mentor more than 40 interns since 2002.”

As one of only 13,000 U.S. Native American women engineers (0.007% of all engineers), Sandra understands the unique challenges Indigenous STEM students face and has recommended systemic change in education programs to help the American Indian and Alaska Native communities.

As part of the Sandia internship program, students spent summers working on Indian energy projects and research. Each year, field visits to tribal lands enabled the interns to learn about and help solve real-world technical problems.

“I’m happy that a few interns were hired by Sandia,” she said. “All are leaders in renewable energy academic studies, in nonprofit work and in tribal projects. I feel that I provided a steppingstone of a real tribal project, in real time, which complemented the interns’ academic studies.”

Mentors, early career work led Sandra to where she is today

On paper, Sandra’s accomplishments and awards fill multiple pages, but when asked what stands out to her as a couple of specific highlights, she recognizes the mentors who helped her grow and early career work as the base of all she is recognized for now.

“I am grateful to all of my mentors who helped me create a vision beyond my engineering tasks,” she said. “I am proud of my early technical assistance work with the Navajo Nation’s residential solar program and the tribal strategic energy plans I facilitated all across the country, including Alaska.”

Prior to working at Sandia, Sandra was employed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Beyond her technical work, she holds leadership roles on boards and committees at the University of New Mexico and has served as a member of the National Academies of Science, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Science Foundation, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Presbyterian Health System Board.

Women in Technology nominations and applicants were evaluated on four criteria: impact to their profession, volunteerism, mentorship and entrepreneurialism, according to the council. The awards ceremony was streamed virtually on June 10.

“Sandia serves as a New Mexico Technology Council community partner, and we appreciate being part of an organization that honors women in STEM fields,” said David Kistin, manager of business development and New Mexico Technology Council vice chair. “We’re proud that Sandra Begay received one of the 2021 awards. Her work shows what can happen when the Labs connect innovative technology and researchers with community partners.”

In the future, Sandra looks forward to seeing what young engineers accomplish.

“I look forward to other Native young people taking a leadership position,” she said. “They can address the challenges ahead. I love what I do, but I look forward to future adventures.”