Scholarship Winner Hopes To Inspire Young Women With A Career In Science

Scholarship winner Arasely Rodriguez is shown in the Taos Middle School science lab plating E. coli bacteria on a petri dish to incubate and then count the colonies that grow in order to better understand the bacteria’s morphological behavior. Photo by Andrea Multari/LANL Foundation

Arasely Rodriguez in the Taos Middle School science lab plating E. coli bacteria. Photo by Andrea Multari/LANL Foundation

LANL FOUNDATION News:

Taoseña Arasely Rodriguez is a soft-spoken, observant young woman. Her intensity of focus has been one of her greatest assets in defining her self-driven learning style that sets her apart from many of her peers.

Growing up speaking mostly Spanish at home with her family, Arasely was placed in the English as a Second Language class with other elementary school bi-lingual learners. Teachers recognized early on that her education was being limited, so she was removed from the ESL class and began to shine. She was especially intrigued by science.

Beginning in elementary school Arasely participated in science fairs, enjoying the challenge of exploration and problem solving. She recalls her interest turning into more of a passion in fourth grade while learning about photosynthesis and in fifth grade listening to a visiting scientist speak about soil and water conservation.

“Science draws me in because it allows me to ask questions and find the answers,” the young scientist said. “I like figuring out what the world is made up of.”

By sixth grade, Arasely expressed such interest and advanced understanding of science and technical concepts that her teacher “didn’t know what to do with her” and sent her to the Taos Middle School Science Lab to conduct individual explorations. Under the guidance of Science Fair and STEM Instructor Laura Tenorio, Arasely would explore along her own scientific path.

The science lab became Arasely’s home away from home while attending Taos High School. She served as a lab assistant in charge of inventory, setting up equipment, and even closing down the room at night. She tutored middle school students in math and science and assisted teams with developing solutions for science fair projects, spending three or more hours in the lab each day.

Although Arasely says her family thinks she’s “weird” for her dedication, her parents encouraged their daughter and stressed the importance of education. She remembers the proud moment when the whole family drove to Albuquerque to support and celebrate her father getting his plumbing license in order to further his business.

During senior year, her science fair team synthesized a biopolymer from crab shells to filter out common pharmaceuticals like antibiotics, ibuprofen, and estrogen from drinking water. It was Arasely who devised the method of using bacteria to test for the presence of antibiotics in the water, with a 99.7 percent overall removal rate for the system. The students plan to submit a patent and hope to develop a product for public use.

After winning Grand Best of Show at the regional competition, the team went on to compete in Phoenix at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, the world’s largest pre-college science competition. Approximately 1,700 ninth through twelfth grade students from 75 countries, regions and territories showcased their independent research and competed for prizes. Arasely’s team won fourth place and $500 for their entry in the Environmental Engineering category.

This fall, Arasely will attend Regis University with the help of a $20,000 Gold award from the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund. Her goal is to help others by developing diagnostic or therapeutic medical devices or exploring tissue engineering to improver biological function.

Born with a heart defect that required an operation at two weeks old, Arasely had yearly visits with cardiologists.

“I looked forward to the check ups and the echocardiogram,” she said. “It was fun hearing my heartbeat. Those experiences and my interest in biology and chemistry sparked my interest in biomedical engineering.”

In addition to helping others through a career in science, Arasely also wants to inspire young women in her community. Her family and Mexican-American heritage are very important to her, and it is a huge milestone that Arasely will be the first in her family to go to college.

“Some girls are geared toward more traditional roles,” she said. “I often see younger students who don’t believe in themselves or think they can’t do better in school. I want to be an example that with hard work and the right learning environment and circumstances, you can thrive.” 

Navigating the path to college was a challenge. The Federal student aid application, college applications, scholarship research, and even knowing how to select a college were foreign to Arasely and her family. They weren’t sure how they would pay for her education, so winning the scholarship helped to relieve some of the pressure.

“The burden of debt you could acquire is a big anchor. With the scholarship, I can fully immerse myself in academic life, not adding to the burden on myself and my family,” she said. 

Arasely will face challenges other students have encountered while pursuing careers in sciencem technology, engineering and math, as Tenorio has learned from experience, “STEM fields are expensive areas of study, and many students have to take on a job to help pay for college. It’s hard to balance taking complex classes and working. Some can’t handle it and end up downgrading their education.”

Arasely is grateful to all those who have helped her strive forward.

“I know that I have the support and encouragement to succeed. Scholarships give students a means to go to college, to further knowledge and turn their passion into careers.” Thank you, she said.

About the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund

The Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund encourages Los Alamos National Laboratory employees, retirees and subcontractor personnel to donate to a fund that awards college scholarships to Northern New Mexico students. Contributions from businesses and individuals outside the Laboratory may also be made at www.lanlfoundation.org.

The Laboratory’s 2016 scholarship drive continues through June 17. Pledges will fund scholarships in 2017 and continue to build the endowment for a sustainable program.

The Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund program began in 1998 and is administered for the Laboratory by the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation. Since its inception, more than 1,100 scholarships have been awarded totaling $5.5 million. Laboratory employees have donated $3.7 million to the fund.

About Los Alamos National Laboratory (www.lanl.gov)

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, BWXT Government Group, and URS, an AECOM company, 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 (www.lanlfoundation.org.)

Since 1997, the Los Alamos National Laboratory Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has worked to inspire excellence in education and learning in Northern New Mexico through innovative programming, collaboration and advocacy. By investing in human potential, the Foundation’s vision is that all New Mexicans have the skills and confidence they need to be self-sufficient, lifelong learners who are engaged in their communities. Programs in early childhood education, STEM inquiry learning, scholarships and small grants serve Northern New Mexico communities primarily in Los Alamos, Mora, Rio Arriba, San Miguel, Sandoval, Santa Fe and Taos counties.

Arasely Rodriguez in the Taos Middle School science lab plating E. coli bacteria. Photo by Andrea Multari/LANL Foundation

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