When Questeña Santana García-Chang saw a video about the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s employee scholarship fund she thought, “I want to be in that.” Today she is.
García-Chang and Francisco “Kiko” Rael hang out with scientists and engineers at their adopted home in Los Alamos. Their days are busy: caring for 2 1/2-year-old son, Javan, working 25 hours a week at Los Alamos lab, she an intern, he a contractor. But their eyes are on the prize of careers in environmental/civil engineering and health physics for radiation control.
They are both first in their families to pursue college degrees. García-Chang, who receives $20,000 over four years from the Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund, is determined. Rael is inspired by her drive, and became one of the early winners of a Returning Student/Regional College Scholarship $1,000 award for people whose college careers are interrupted. The scholarships are administered by the LANL Foundation, with funding from donations by LANL employees and a matching amount from Los Alamos National Security, LLC.
García-Chang graduated from Questa High School, with a 4.0 and 33 hours of college credit from UNM-Taos and plans to earn a degree in civil engineering at UNM-Los Alamos in 2015. Rael, a former firefighter with the Red River crew, aims for a degree from Northern New Mexico College to work in radiation control. Through the “pipeline” the LANL Foundation establishes with the labs, they have work in their fields.
They are the first to say they couldn’t do it without their families. García-Chang’s sister, Chanel, moved in with the couple in Los Alamos to care for Javan the first summer they were on the Hill. Her mother, Brandi, who works at Pieces, a consignment store in Taos, is a frequent visitor. Rael’s mother, Virginia, is commuting to the Hill every Sunday evening to stay with Javan for the week.
Her grandparents, Leno and Viola García, raised Santana since she was nine and her father, a native of Taiwan, died in an automobile accident. A family friend, Michael Cisneros, who works at LANL, encouraged her grandparents to help her pursue a college degree and a career at the labs.
When she became pregnant with Javan, she didn’t give up her server job in Red River, working through spring break before resigning to give birth two weeks later. She didn’t give up her high school career, completing her junior year from home and graduating with honors. She didn’t give up on her late father’s advice on education. She drove to Taos weekly to the Puentes program for single moms and worked with Bridges, a program that encourages Taos County students to attend college. Bridges’ Executive Director Joylene Montoya-Dye convinced her that she’s not just a teen-mom stereotype, “I am worthy.”
Rael’s time out from school was adrenalin fun- and work-filled. He helped Taos Ski Valley launch its snowboard program and volunteered with the QHS soccer team. He was called out to fight the Las Conchas fire last year, leading a 10-person crew to dig fire lines.
Now he is ready to settle down. Until grandmother arrived, he was getting Javan’s lunch ready, taking him to daycare and heading to study and work. Last semester he drove both mornings and evenings down the hill to Northern to class.
Growing up near the Chevron mines, García-Chang, knows how important environmental issues are to traditional norteño values. “As an engineer, I want to make sure technology will not counter the nature and land-based traditions of Northern New Mexico,” she said.
The couple look at each other over lunch at a Los Alamos coffee house. “She’s beautiful, intelligent, has amazing drive and inspires me,” Rael says. “What would I do without him?” asks García-Chang. “LANL and the Foundation have opened doors we never thought possible,” they say, almost in unison.
Story courtesy of Los Alamos Laboratories. For details or applications for Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund, contact Tony Fox, Scholarship Program Officer, LANL Foundation, 505-753-8890, ext. 16, or firstname.lastname@example.org