Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico’s Third District visited UNM-Los Alamos Tuesday as part of a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Tour of northern New Mexico.
Luján met with students and educators and to discuss the need to encourage students to pursue an education in STEM at a young age and the opportunities available in STEM fields. Luján has been an advocate for STEM education, introducing legislation to support teacher training in these subjects as well as encourage coordination between the business and education communities in order to identify the STEM skills students will need in the workforce.
At UNM-LA, Carol Rutten, Institutional Program Manager for Education at Los Alamos National Laboratory, joined UNM-LA Executive Director Cedric Page and Dean of Instruction Cindy Rooney in outlining collaborations between LANL and the college, including student internships at the Laboratory.
“You can count on me to push DOE to work on internship opportunities,” Luján said.
Luján visited a robotics classroom where robotics instructors Dave Phillips and Don Davis and their students showed him their projects. Next, Joe Candelaria, instructor in the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Fire Science programs and students Candice Herrera and Vince Herrerra demonstrated EMS training equipment. Candice and Vince are father and daughter. Both are in the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Fire Science programs. Candice will graduate in Spring 2014, and has been admitted to a bachelor’s program in paramedics. Vince expects to graduate in Fall 2015.
The Herreras are the first father and daughter to graduate from the N.M. Volunteer Fire Academy. The two praised the UNM-LA program, noting its small classes and flexible class times which allow working adults to attend school.
Luján spoke with three students in the UNM-LA Accelerate Technical Job Training Program, which supports students in technical fields as they work to achieve their career goals.
Aysha McClory, majoring in environmental science, said she hopes to join the Peace Corps after finishing her degree. Pre-engineering major Sheri Lopez will be a summer intern at Fermi Lab through the Department of Energy Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship program this summer. A returning student, Lopez, 29, is a single mother. She has a passion for helping young women and girls enter technical fields.
“We need to have female scientists in the schools, talking with students,” Lopez said. “The next Einstein may be a girl who was told ‘yes you can!”
Luján said he hopes to collaborate with women working in technical fields and students like Lopez to increase opportunities for women in these areas. “You are a mentor in the making,” he told Lopez.
Luján also stressed the importance of equal pay for women.
“I encourage my Republican colleagues to talk to their moms about the need for equal pay,” he said.
Joshua Bristol-Cossey is majoring in robotics and will graduate in Fall 2014. His dream is to use cybernetics to help those who have been disabled to lead full and active lives. “Making them whole would be a beautiful thing,” he said.
Bristol-Cossey said having an instructor like Don Davis who has actually worked in the robotics field made a big difference to him. “I really got the idea of what working in the field would be like,” he said.
“What I’m hearing is that UNM-LA has helped get you on the right track,” Luján told the students. “This campus needs your advocacy.”
Luján said people in the east who seek to close branch campuses fail to realize the distances students in western states would have to travel to get an education if branches were closed.
“Your stories need to be told,” Luján said. “Those who want to close branch campuses need to hear these stories.”