LANL Scholarship Helps Taos Student Achieve Goals

Dawn Penso met AESF’s rigorous merit-based requirements to earn the $10,000 John and Marti Browne Endowed Leadership Scholarship. Courtesy/LANLF


For Dawn Penso, the word “goal” has important significance both on and off the soccer field. From an early age, the accomplished athlete and Taos High School graduate has used her personal drive to stay focused on her aspirations.

A tumultuous upbringing led Penso to seek comfort outside her home environment. At the age of seven, she discovered soccer as a positive outlet to “get in the zone” and clear her head of challenges she faced with family. The sport quickly became her passion.

Penso credits her teachers and teammates with creating a positive support system for personal growth and leadership and helping her to develop a love of learning. She could envision a life of exploration that would also allow her to help others, and found that education and being a team player were means to get there. “I really pushed myself to find a positive, healthy lifestyle,” she said. “I knew that working really hard in school, at soccer, and in my community would help me reach my goals.”

In high school, Penso had a strong focus on math and science with an interest in art. In addition to a long list of AP courses she took, Penso was a member of the science club, tutored first grade students in science and competed in the Department of Energy’s Science Bowl. She also served as a youth leader in Café Scientifique to bring LANL scientists to her community, mentor students and foster interest in careers in science. She participated in the Taos Arts Club, led creative workshops and mentored students to ignite their imaginations.

Somehow she maintained the energy to train and play defender on the Taos Tigers Ladies Soccer Team, serving as captain for three years. The team placed second in the 2011 State Championship, and Penso was recognized as an All-District, All-State player for multiple years, as well as earning Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. She also volunteered in the Soccer After Dark program, training kids ages 6–10.

Penso received a $10,000 John and Marti Browne Endowed Leadership Scholarship from the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund (LAESF). This award, named after the former LANL Director and his wife, is given to students who exhibit strong leadership qualities and have significant financial need, in addition to meeting LAESF’s rigorous merit-based requirements.

Her scholarship from LANL means that Penso can attend an out-of-state school without the need for student loans. “My family struggles financially, but I’m going to William’s College, the school of my dream,” she beamed. “The LANL scholarship helps make that possible. I can’t express how grateful I am to all of the donors.”

Penso will also receive a scholarship from the college that will cover much of $67,000 per year cost to attend. Her LAESF scholarship fills in the gaps to cover additional living costs, books and supplies, and will allow her to continue playing soccer and focus on her courses without the need for employment.

What she learned from her time on the field will continue to guide Penso in her daily life and drive her to succeed into the future. “In soccer, you always have to think a few steps ahead,” she explained, “but you can’t think of how the game will end or you’ll lose focus and make mistakes. There’s motivation to win, but you have to play in the moment. It’s a very mental sport.”

Penso will focus her college studies on civil or environmental engineering. She intends to travel the world and create better water facilities to impact the lives of those in need while supporting the environment.

Her future has a global perspective, but Penso intends to stay connected with her roots in Taos. “My ultimate goal is be successful and be an inspiration to others, especially my younger brother,” she said. “If you work hard and stay focused in the moment you can achieve the life you desire.”

LAESF Scholarships range from $1,000 to $20,000 and are awarded to Northern New Mexico students pursuing four-year degrees straight out of high school and to non-traditional students returning to formal education looking to change or advance their careers with two-year degrees or certificates. There also is a $1,000 Tribal Business Scholarship to encourage students to pursue business-related degrees in support of economic development in Pueblo or Tribal communities. Funds are largely contributed by LANL employees with an employee match of up to $250,000 donated by LANS since 2007.

During the 2015 fundraising campaign that lasts until June 19, Laboratory employees may contribute through the Oracle payroll system. Community members are invited to contribute using the pledge form at

About Los Alamos National Laboratory (

Los Alamos National Laboratory, a multidisciplinary research institution engaged in strategic science on behalf of national security, is operated by Los Alamos National Security, LLC, a team composed of Bechtel National, the University of California, The Babcock & Wilcox Company, and URS Corporation for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

Los Alamos enhances national security by ensuring the safety and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction, and solving problems related to energy, environment, infrastructure, health, and global security concerns.

About the LANL Foundation (

The LANL Foundation is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit created in 1997 in recognition of the interdependence of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Northern New Mexico communities. The vision for the Foundation is to serve as a catalyst and leader for successful innovation of programs that engage the region in creating excellence in education.

The Foundation invests in human potential through small grants, scholarships, the First Born® early childhood home visiting program and the Inquiry Science Education Consortium, primarily in Los Alamos, Mora, Rio Arriba, San Miguel, Sandoval, Santa Fe, and Taos counties.

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