"Put one hand in the air," says Fernando Urquidi, a computer systems professional at the Laboratory. "Now, can you reach a little higher? And a little higher again? That's what I try and show the kids - that you can reach higher than you think you can."
Urquidi has been volunteering with the computer science and other STEM classes at his old high school in Santa Teresa, NM for three years, expanding the students' sense of what they can achieve, and what opportunities exist for them.
"It's a school in an income restricted area," he says. "A lot of the families are in difficult situations, and the chance for things to turn out wrong for the students is a little higher than other places."
Urquidi, who works on database programming at the Laboratory, was initially asked to talk about careers to the students in one computer science class. "The teacher is great, and he wanted me to tell them about what sort of computing and STEM jobs are available."
Relating to the students
"I can relate to the students at a personal level because I've been them," he says. "I talked about STEM careers in general, and at Los Alamos in particular, and helped them understand the range of opportunities that exist at the Laboratory. It's not just scientists, it's technicians, IT support, skilled union jobs - the students didn’t know what could be out there for them."
Other teachers were soon asking him to talk to their classes, and he's now given eight talks to larger and larger groups, including some virtually during the height of the COVID restrictions. "It started with 20 kids, and suddenly it was 80!" he says.
More than presentations
In addition to careers talks he also makes himself available to mentor students who have questions or need support, connecting with some of them by playing online video games.
"When I was growing up, I lacked that sort of mentorship," he says. "If I'd had a little more guidance, my own path might have been smoother, so I'm trying to give back when I can."
Now the first classes he spoke to are approaching graduation, and he's pointing the students towards internships and other education opportunities.
"It would be great to see some of them working at the Laboratory in the future," he says, already planning his next trip back to make a positive impact on another set of students.