This fundraising effort encourages Laboratory employees to donate to a fund that awards college scholarships to Northern New Mexico students.
"I am struck by the resiliency and diversity of these incredible applicants and the stories they have to tell of their lives," says committee co-chair Tina Varela, co-chair of the LAESF Advisory Committee, the volunteer group that steers the scholarship program and selects each new class of LANL Scholars. "Their determination to better their lives and the lives of their families and communities by pursuing higher education is exciting and promising."
Since 1999, more than 2,000 scholarships worth over $10 million have been awarded to local students. At least 50% of this year’s recipients — all with strong records of achievement, leadership and service — had a moderate to high level of financial need.
While those unfamiliar with the LAESF scholarship might assume that the funds are awarded primarily to students from Los Alamos, the fund actually supports students from across the region. For the past two years, the school awarded the most scholarship dollars was Capital High School (CHS) located on the southside of Santa Fe. With a significant population of lower-income families and strong academic offerings, CHS students are competitive applicants for many LAESF awards designated for students with financial need.
Laboratory operator Triad also supports LAESF with a contribution, with a particular focus on needs-based scholarships.
From Mora to the U.S. Naval Academy
A summer STEM program with the U.S. Naval Academy and U.S. Military Academy was all it took for Diego Aragón of Mora High School to know he wanted to be the first engineer in his family. Now, with a Gold Scholarship from the Los Alamos Employees' Scholarship Fund in hand, he is well on his way to making that dream come true.
Diego has maintained an almost-perfect 4.0 GPA, which is an achievement in and of itself. But when you add in the many other things Diego has on his plate — serving as captain of his school's basketball, baseball and cross-country teams; leading both the Northeast District Student Council and La Jicarita Mountaineers 4-H Club as president; working as an officer in MESA (Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement) — it's easy to see why mentor New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colón describes him as “the embodiment of the spirit and tenacity of Northern New Mexico."
This fall, Diego will attend Georgia Military College to complete his prep year before entering the class of 2027 at the U.S. Naval Academy.
After that, Diego plans to become a nuclear engineer. His goal, he says, is to help develop a clean and renewable energy source to address the effects of climate pollution.
"I plan to serve my country with honor and represent my community," he says. "I want to thank the LANL Foundation for this opportunity and support."
From pastry chef to cyber security
The LAESF Career Pathways Scholarship was established in 2011 to support students pursuing an associate degree, trade or certification. Many recipients of this scholarship are adults who postponed their education while raising a family or who want to make a career change. Oftentimes, recipients have faced significant life challenges that disrupted their plans to pursue higher education and a career that aligns with their passion and talents.
When she was 16, Amy Ketchenson earned her GED and began taking courses at Santa Fe Community College. The fit wasn't right at the time so Amy entered the workforce and established herself as a successful pastry chef, working with award-winning chefs in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
After some time in the industry, Amy found she had an interest in computer science and cyber security that she wanted to explore. In 2019, she re-enrolled at SFCC — and, this time, the fit was right. By her second semester, Amy had made the dean's list, and she was awarded a LANL Career Pathways Scholarship. That's when she discovered she was going to have a baby.
There was a lot on Amy's plate: caring for her small child, part-time jobs, legal fees, health concerns, transportation issues and 18 credit hours of rigorous coursework. But Amy — described as "tenacious," "dedicated" and "hardworking" by her SFCC advisors and tutors — took on even more when the pandemic hit. She was selected to serve as the SFCC LANL Scholar Ambassador (a Triad-funded program of the LANL Foundation), supporting other LANL Scholars.
Amy will earn her associate degree in computer science this spring, and she was recently awarded a LAESF Bronze Scholarship to continue her studies in pursuit of a bachelor's degree in cyber security.