LANL Foundation kicks off scholarship campaign

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By Sarah von Sternberg

The annual Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund (LAESF) Kickoff Reception took place last Thursday at the Oppenheimer Study Center on the Los Alamos National Laboratory campus.
This kickoff event included several current and past scholars to talk about how the scholarships they received made an impact on their lives. The LAESF is a part of the LANL Foundation whose mission is to inspire excellence in education and learning in northern New Mexico through innovative programming, collaboration, and advocacy.
Since 1999, $6.1 million has been awarded to students, most of which has been donated by the Laboratory workforce, with a $250,000 employee match from Los Alamos National Security.
This year’s fundraising campaign champion, Jeff Yarbrough, associate director for Plutonium Science and Manufacturing, addressed students, parents and donors at the Lab, emphasizing the fundraising theme, “Education: Mission Critical.” John McDermon, LANL Foundation scholarship program manager, and LANL Director Charlie McMillan were also in attendance.
Each year, LANL Foundation has the privilege of awarding scholarships to deserving students who have worked hard in and out of the classroom to become well-rounded individuals and members of their communities. Some scholars have overcome incredible challenges to stay on track and excel. Many recipients are first generation college attendees. Regardless, all winners have challenged themselves to achieve their educational goals and expressed the desire to give back to others through their careers.
The fundraising campaign itself runs at the lab June 5 through July 7.
“Community members outside the Laboratory are also invited to donate to scholarships that support students from seven northern New Mexico counties,” said LANL Foundation Communications Officer Andrea Multari. LANLfoundatiton.org website accepts donations year round.
Five past and present scholars spoke about the impact their scholarships made on their lives, expressing gratitude for the opportunities they were given through LAESF.
First to address the crowd was Charlyna Gonzales, a $20,000 Gold Scholar from Peñasco High School. Gonzalez plans to study biomedical engineering and physics at Colby College.
“I hope to contribute to the medical field by conducting research, helping progress technology and administering healthcare.” Gonzales continued, “I am truly honored to now be a part of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, an organization with great importance, not only to this country, but also to the students and communities of New Mexico.” She then thanked LANL for having a positive outlook on the abilities and futures of its students.
Wilbur Wang is a senior at Los Alamos High School and plans to study molecular biology at Princeton University. “In the future, after earning a doctorate, I hope to contribute to healthcare research through the study of regenerative medicine and artificial organ systems to benefit families around the world.” He was awarded the $20,000 Gold Scholarship.
Santa Fe Preparatory School graduate Madison Winston won the $15,000 Silver scholarship from LAESF, and with that, will be able to pursue an interdisciplinary approach to writing at Brown University. Winston explained that without this financial aid, college would be out of reach for her. “I would like to thank the donors for showing me the value and impact of philanthropy. I promise to demonstrate my appreciation by excelling academically and making the most of this opportunity,” said Winston.
Another scholar, Michael Gonzales, was awarded $10,000 and is a current undergraduate student at Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology studying mathematics. “I want to make an impact in New Mexico, especially Española, to help students grasp a better understanding of math.” Said Gonzales. He commented that this scholarship will help him by reducing the need for other forms of financial aid. Now Gonzales will be able to focus on his degree without the financial worry that can bring many college students down.  
Santana Rael graduated six years ago from Questa High School and with the help of two scholarships, earned a bachelor’s of science degree in civil engineering from University of New Mexico. After working as an intern at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Rael was hired as a full-time Civil Design Engineer in the Engineering Services Division. She began her speech with stark statistics: “Only 40 percent of teen moms graduate from high school. Less than two percent will earn a college degree by the age of 30.” Rael then explained, “I graduated from high school second in my class with a 4.0 GPA, 33 college credit hours, and a 15-month-old son. Although I had the perseverance to attend college, the LAESF scholarships gave me support and validation to succeed.” After recognizing the invaluable help from LAESF, Rael remarked, “Opportunities like these are life changing.”
Every testimony was an inspiring story showcasing the impact LAESF scholarships has on the students’ futures. For more information about scholarships, donations or joining the advisory committee, contact John McDermon, Scholarship Program Manager at 753-8890 ext. 115 or john@lanlfoundation.org.