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Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Lab named Top 50 STEM Workplace for Native Americans

The American Indian Science and Engineering Society named Los Alamos a top employer for Native Americans in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics areas.

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LANL named Top 50 STEM Workplace for Native Americans

Denise Thronas, a technical project manager in chemistry, considers the Laboratory a great place to work because she has been able to advance her career in science without leaving her tribal community.

Increasing representation of North American indigenous peoples in STEM studies, careers

The American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) named the Laboratory as a top 50 STEM employer for Native Americans. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.)

An article in the spring 2016 issue Winds of Change magazine, the official AISES publication, published the list along with survey results and inspiring employee profiles. The mission of AISES is to substantially increase the representation of indigenous peoples of North America in STEM studies and careers.

"This is indeed an honor,” said Rosemary Maestas-Swazo, tribal liaison in the Lab’s Government Affairs and Protocol Office. “Our talented and gifted Native American professionals make valuable contributions to our workplace and global mission.”

Companies that made the Top 50 list have recruited Native Americans and Alaska Natives for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics positions in the last two years. They also demonstrated to AISES that they foster an inclusive, supportive work environment.

“Our Native American workforce serves as mentors and role models and inspires our youth (Native and non-Native alike) who are thinking of achieving a higher education degree and pursuing professional (STEM and non-STEM related) careers,” said Maestas-Swazo. "They have a profound impact on our communities and often devote their time and energy to improving the quality of life in their communities.”

A tribal member of Ohkay Owingeh, Maestas-Swazo started her career in STEM, with an accounting degree and a Master of Business Administration, before becoming an attorney specializing in environmental and federal Indian law.

The Laboratory recruits Native American students, graduates, and professionals at targeted diversity events sponsored by AISES and the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), in addition to traditional recruiting venues.

Currently, 1.8 percent of Lab employees (across all fields) are Native.

New Mexico has the fourth largest Native American population, and the Laboratory is broadening its efforts to encourage local Native students in STEM studies and careers. Here are a few examples:

  • Now in its fourth year, the Northern New Mexico Tribal Business Scholarship, administered by the LANL Foundation, is for Native American students pursuing post-secondary education in accounting, financial analysis, and business information systems.
  • In February 2016, as part of a DOE initiative called My Brother’s Keeper, the Laboratory brought in about 100 students from the Santa Fe Indian School for a day-long event to introduce them to careers in STEM.
  • Los Alamos National Laboratory Math and Science Academy ncludes involvement with seven Bureau of Indian Education and Pueblo schools.

Los Alamos employee Denise Thronas, who holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, said, “I think we as Native people do not realize we are inherently taught STEM concepts from our elders—through our traditional crafts of weaving, beading, pottery, sculpture, and our love of food. We have STEM professionals within our communities who should be recognized as our role models; they instill in us the confidence that we can do well in a scientific laboratory.”

Thronas joined the Lab more than 20 years ago. Now a technical project manager in Chemistry Division assigned to a complex facility project, she said she has appreciated the opportunity to advance her career in science while raising her family on Ohkay Owingeh.

“The Laboratory is surrounded by Native communities, and this status as a best employer for Native STEM professionals proves that LANL embraces diversity,” Thronas said.

In addition to the recognition from AISES and Winds of Change magazine, the Laboratory recently received honors from LATINA Style magazine as a Top 50 Employer for Latina Women, the first national laboratory to achieve the distinction. In addition, the Lab was also named a 2016 Top 20 Government Employer, the only national laboratory to achieve this recognition.

Related story: Sandra One Feather named AISES Sequoyah Fellow


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