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Rep. Ben Ray Lujãn (D-N.M.) visited the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos recently, anxious to learn more about the programs there and how he can help further the university’s immersion in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programming.
Lujãn has publicly stated his support of STEM programming, not only as a means to stabilize New Mexico’s economy, but also as means of economic mobility for New Mexico’s high school and college-aged students.
Accompanying him on his tour of the campus were UNM-LA’s Executive Director Dr. Cedric Page, Dean of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Cindy J. Rooney, Carole G. Rutten, the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Institutional Program Manager for Education in the Community Programs Office and others.
One goal Lujan hoped to achieve by his visit was to drive home the importance of STEM-based programming to his counterparts in Washington as well as the importance of branch campuses in general.
“In the midst of the budget debates we had just last week, the Paul Ryan budget will sadly devastate programs like this,” Lujan said, talking about the budget proposal of Ryan, the Republican House Budget Committee chairman from Wisconsin. “So, what I can take back to this debate is the information I get from these types of visits with the educational leaders of New Mexico, students, as well as the small businesses that depend on STEM education. Perhaps my colleagues will begin to understand the importance of the programs they’re looking to cut and their importance to the communities they serve. Hopefully they will then begin to support these programs rather than devastate them.”
One of the highlights of Lujan’s visit included a discussion with students involved in the programs. Sheri Lopez, a pre-engineering student who is undertaking an internship at Fermi Labs, urged Lujan to find a way to equal the playing field for women who are applying for STEM jobs.
“There has to be more educational opportunities for young women, maybe starting in elementary school,” Lopez said. “The perception’s always been that boys are naturally good at math. This sexist idea has been around so long it’s ingrained itself, passed on from generation to generation. I think that cycle needs to be broken.”
Lujan and Rutten both were impressed with Lopez’s statement that they talked of starting a program doing just that, that Lopez offered to help with.
Another student, Joshua Bristol-Cossey, who is in the school’s Accelerate Technical Job Training Program and is majoring in Robotics, talked about how important it’s been to have a teacher that has actually worked in the field that he’s planning to go into once he graduates.
“Another thing we need to expand on is teaching kids about what the job is going to look like,” he said. “I thought I was going to become a miserable little worker bee for the rest of my life until I came here. Don Davis (UNM-LA Technology Chair) then told me all about the field.”
Other highlights included visiting with the “Project Y” Robotics Team, as well as students enrolled in the school’s EMS and Fire Science degree programs.
Page said the students at the discussion made a positive impression on Lujan.
“I was very proud to see how well they articulated and expressed their career goals as well as demonstrate to Mr. Lujan just what UNM-LA and its programs mean to them,” he said.