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LANL scientist chosen for elite fellowship

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By Kelly LeVan

President Bush’s 2008-2009 class of White House Fellows includes David Loaiza, technical staff member at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The president announced the 14 appointments this week, each selected by the president’s Commission on White House Fellowships, to participate in one of the nation’s most prestigious fellowship programs for leadership development and public service.

The group, narrowed down from nearly 3,000 applicants, includes a cross-section of medical, education, business and science technology professionals.

Each passed  a grueling series of more than 10 interviews wherein the candidates were asked a broad range of questions about health care, the economy, immigration and other politically relevant topics as well as literature and history.

“You look at your peers, and everybody ... was just right on top of the issues,” Loaiza said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “Some of them prepared for months for the interviews. Some were just so well-rounded.”

Loaiza, a resident of Santa Fe currently working in Washington, D.C.,  serves as an advisor to the Department of Energy’s Office of Dismantlement and Transparency, assisting in the development of U.S. non-proliferation policy at the national and international level.

As a technical team  leader for U.S. delegations monitoring the denuclearization of North Korea, he’s traveled to the country seven times in the past eight months, he said.

He also provides technical briefs and training to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Loaiza has 14 years of experience leading research programs in radiation detection and critical mass experiments. Over the course of his career, he has performed experiments with highly enriched uranium, plutonium and neptunium to support the DOE Nuclear Spent Fuel, Nuclear Criticality Safety and Nonproliferation Programs as well as the Yucca Mountain Project and NASA.

He has published and presented his work at national and international conferences, and is proficient in Spanish, French, Italian and Russian.

He holds a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and an M.B.A. from the University of New Mexico.

His interests include running marathons, playing polo and soccer, and ballroom dancing.

Loaiza said he already made several friends during the final interviews, and looks forward to learning not only from the political leaders he will work with as a White House Fellow, but also from the other men and women selected for the fellowship.

“To learn from the other fellows, and from leaders in government – to see how they think ... this will help me do my job better. This gives me the opportunity to see how policy decisions are made at the highest level.”

He added that few technical scientists are chosen for the program because of its focus on finding well-rounded candidates. During the interviews, he said, he had to convince them he wasn’t purely a specialist.

“Yes, I have a Ph.D., but that’s not all I do,” he said. “I hope more people in science will apply for this fellowship position.”

The White House Fellows Program, founded in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, offers men and women first-hand experience working at the highest levels of the federal government.

Fellows participate in an education program consisting of roundtable discussions with leaders from the private and public sectors and study trips to examine U.S. policy in action.

Following the fellowship year, participants repay the privilege by contributing to the country as better national leaders and public servants.

Selection as a White House Fellow is highly competitive and based on a record of professional achievement, evidence of leadership skills, a strong commitment to public service, and demonstration of the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute successfully at the highest levels of the federal government.

The program has fostered leaders in many fields, including Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, former CNN President Tom Johnson, United Nations Foundation President and Former U.S. Sen. Timothy Wirth, former Supreme Allied Commander for Europe Wesley K. Clark, U.S. Senator Samuel Brownback, and U.S. Rep. Joe L. Barton.

Additional information about the program is located at www.whitehouse.gov  /fellows.