Ten Outstanding Students Awarded LAPS Foundation Scholarships


Ten outstanding students have been awarded the Los Alamos Public Schools Foundation scholarship.  Each student demonstrated a balance of academic excellence, extracurricular participation and community service throughout their high school careers.  Winners chose an Educator of Distinction; this is an education professional that had a positive impact on the student’s time in the Los Alamos Public Schools. 

Cheryl Smith-Ecke and Kristen Heartling. Photo by Michael P. Young Photography

Kristen Haertling was awarded the Rynd Award, named for Ed and Betty Rynd, a couple with a passion for public education, who left a legacy of service to our community and our schools. The Rynds donated the bulk of their estate to the LAPS Foundation, finding the organization to be trust worthy of such a bequest. Haertling was selected by the scholarship selection committee as most meritorious recipient.

Haertling chose Cheryl Smith-Ecke, her fourth grade through middle school orchestra teacher as her Educator of Distinction. Haertling said of Smith-Ecke, “She is one of the most enthusiastic people that I know; she gets so excited over the things that she loves, such as teaching orchestra classes or talking to some of her former students. She told me recently that what really mattered to her wasn’t how much talent one has, but rather how much enthusiasm and passion one has toward learning. I even remember when she dressed up like a cello for Halloween one year in elementary school.” Haertling will attend Texas Tech University to study economics with plans to pursue a career in economics education and/or music. She is the daughter of Michael and Trudy Haertling. 

Haley Bridgewater and Stephanie Mitchell. Photo by Michael P. Young Photography

Haley Bridgewater chose Stephanie Mitchell her Honors and Advance Placement Biology teacher at Los Alamos High School (LAHS) as her Educator of Distinction. Bridgewater said of Mitchell, “I remember telling my parents before the Parent Night during my junior year that they were going to like Ms. Mitchell the best because she “just knew how to teach.” Ms. Mitchell can explain the same concept in ten different ways just so that every student understands. I have never once nodded off during her lectures, because she makes cheesy jokes and draws creative looking cats to describe what we are learning.  Her class has always been challenging, but I always know that if I am willing to put in the work Ms. Mitchell will make sure I succeed.” Bridgewater will attend Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington to study Biology and plans to pursue a career in Biomedicine. She is the daughter of John and Katie Bridgewater. 


Kathryn Vandenkieboom and Lauren Burr. Photo by Michael P. Young Photography

Lauren Burr chose Kathryn Vandenkieboom, her fifth grade teacher at Mountain Elementary. Burr said of Vandenkieboom, “Mrs. Boom showed me that learning can be enjoyable–and it should be, as cliché as it sounds. She knew that there was a huge difference between an instructor and a teacher. Without lacking in instruction, Mrs. Boom managed to be a role model, guiding me when confusion emerged but allowing my own character to independently develop.”  Burr will attend Colorado State University at Ft. Collins to study Economics and International Studies and plans to pursue a career working for a humanitarian organization.






Scott Johnson and Ethan Clements. Photo by Michael P. Young Photography

Ethan Clements chose Scott Johnson, his third grade teacher at Barranca Elementary School. Clements said of Johnson, “In Mr. Johnson’s classroom, students were engaged in every aspect of learning.  He challenged us to use our imaginations and our own creativity to help us learn.  He used multiple techniques to help us cement our reading skills and abilities. One example is that after we read required books, he would allow us to turn books into plays and act them out. Also, after individual reading time we were encouraged to get into small groups to discuss the books, which allowed some of the students to act as teachers, and help other students better understand what they had read.” Clements will attend Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota to study Education and Theater with plans to teach K-12 and collegiate Music and Theater. He is the son of Brad and Jane Clements.




Justin Dunn and Nancy Balardo. Photo by Michael P. Young Photography

Justin Dunn chose Nancy Baiardo his second and third grade teacher at Aspen Elementary School as his Educator of Distinction. Dunn said of Baiardo, “Mrs. Baiardo gave me the power to dream and follow my dreams. I knew from a very young age that when I grew up, I wanted to be involved with commercial aviation, and hopefully, become an airline pilot. I was still young and did not really think of my future too extensively. However, I clearly remember that in her class, my dreams of becoming an airline pilot really took off.” Dunn will attend the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks to study Commercial Aviation with plans to pursue a career in the field of commercial aviation. He is the son of Mark and Chikako Dunn.




Hannah Dye and Natasha Barkhudarova. Photo by Michael P. Young Photography

Hannah Dye chose Natasha Barkhudarova her Ballroom Dance teacher LAHS as her Educator of Distinction.  Dye said of Miss Natasha as she is affectionately called by her students. “The first thing I noticed about her is how very much she loves dance. The second thing I noticed is how much she wants us–anybody else–to enjoy dance as much as she does. I caught the dance bug by the sheer force of her enthusiasm, and know many other students who have experienced the same thing. Miss Natasha pushes us to be the best that we can be, and this motivation and sense of belonging has translated to other parts of my life as well. I have never been so relaxed or productive as I have been since I began dancing.” Dye will attend Baylor University in Waco, Texas to study Environmental Science. She is the daughter of Rob and Cathy Dye.



Alexandra Hehlen and Catherin Puranananda. Photo by Michael P. Young Photography

Alexandra Hehlen chose Catherine Puranananda her Advance Placement Literature teacher as her Educator of Distinction. Hehlen said of Puranananda, “She has made me a better writer. While this may seem minor, constant improvement in and feedback on my writing skills is integral to success in my future. Ms. Puranananda fosters a strong connection with her students. She participates in class discussions and activities just like another student would, rarely standing at the board with a marker in a more conventional manner. Students trust her, and they not only come to her for help with college essays or literary criticism, but also for guidance with personal issues.” Hehlen will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to study Journalism and Business, with plans to pursue a career as an International Correspondent. She is the daughter of Markus and Bettina Hehlen.



Richard Jia and Joy Handsberry. Photo by Michael P. Young Photography

Richard Jia chose Joy Handsberry, his academic advisor and AP Calculus teacher as his Educator of Distinction. Jia said of Handsberry, “She loves her job and there is hardly a day where she does not consistently teach with great enthusiasm. She goes out of her way to make sure each and every one of her students are is caught up to speed on each lesson. Her unwavering work ethic and personality will allow her to remain as a teacher I will never forget, and I will never stop appreciating what she has done to help me get through the best four years of my life at Los Alamos High School.” Jia will attend the University of California at Davis to study Biomedicine with plans to pursue a career in dentistry with a specialization in orthodontics. Jia is the son of Quanxi Jia and Yi Yuan.



Anta Boshler and Merelle Naud. Photo by Michael P. Young Photography

Merelle Naud chose Anita Boshier her German teacher as her Educator of Distinction. Naud said of Boshier, “Her teaching style demonstrates how teaching is performance art. At least, that is how she makes class feel – like witnessing a riveting and emotional performance in a foreign language! It is still a mystery to me where Frau Boshier gets all her energy. And that’s what I believe is what makes her stand out as an educator – her animated passion. It is how she makes learning German so easy – as easy as catching a cold in a room full of sick, coughing, sneezing people; her liveliness, dedication, and knowledge are contagious.” Naud will attend Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada to study Biology and Education with plans to become a high school biology teacher or if that doesn’t work out, a scientist. 




Emily Pittman and Joy Handsberry. Photo by Michael P. Young Photography

Emily Pittman chose Joy Handsberry her AP Calculus teacher as her Educator of Distinction. Pittman said of Handsberry, “I think that a large part of my decision to go into the mathematical and engineering field in college is due to my having her for a Calculus teacher. Although her class was very challenging, and it took a lot of time and dedication, it has been one of the classes that I have enjoyed the most. Ms. Handsberry held her students to a high standard. She expected us to do nothing but our best, and she encouraged us to do so every day.” Pittman will attend the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque to study Mechanical Engineering. She is daughter of Pete and Carissa Pitman

The LAPS Foundation leverages time, talent and funds to promote innovative learning. To learn more about the many projects and programs funded by the organization, visit the website: lapsfoundation.com. Donations can be made by mailing a check to 1900 Diamond Dr., Los Alamos, NM 87544 or at the website. Photos were taken of each pair as a gift to the Foundation by Michael P. Young Photography.


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