Sandia Labs News Releases

Young women encouraged to blaze their own trails at Sandia’s Math and Science Awards

Sandia Women’s Connection honors exceptional local scholars

LIVERMORE, Calif. – More than 30 students recently visited Sandia National Laboratories’ California site to attend the 27th annual Sandia Math and Science Awards, a flagship program of the Sandia Women’s Connection.


Heidi Ammerlahn, left, with the Sandia National Laboratories Women’s Connection and the director of homeland security and defense systems programs, congratulates a student at the 2018 Sandia Math and Science Awards. (photo by Randy Wong) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

Every year, the Sandia Women’s Connection receives nominations from local high schools and hosts a ceremony to honor the award winners for their accomplishments in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). During and after the ceremony, students are paired with Sandia mentors, who encourage their future studies and answer any questions they might have.

Heidi Ammerlahn, director of the Department of Homeland Security and Defense Systems Center at Sandia, kicked off the evening by talking about what attracted her to Sandia’s mission.

“My career at Sandia has allowed me to follow my interest in math and computer science while serving my community,” Ammerlahn said. “I encourage you all to consider careers in public service.”

Mentors make a difference

Sandia Associate Labs Director Dori Ellis congratulated the young scholars in a video address. Ellis shared the beginnings of her career with the young women.

“Men in my father’s generation believed that women should only be teachers or nurses. That is until they get married and then they should stay at home and be a good wife and mother,” Ellis said. “It was a Sandia mentor, Tom Lane, that encouraged me to apply for an education program at Sandia. That one-year master’s degree program was life-changing for me.”

Ellis pressed upon the importance of seeking mentors and allies.

“Do not hesitate to reach out to us as you make your way,” she said. “We are all rooting for you.”

Plan to change your plans

Carolyn Fisher, a Sandia postdoctoral appointee with the Systems Biology group, gave the keynote remarks. Fresh from finishing her own academic journey, she shared some words of wisdom.

“Please do not be afraid to dabble,” Fisher said. “When I was in high school, I wanted to be a crime scene detective. Now I search for algae predators. Give yourself permission to change your mind and follow your interests.”

The winners of the 2018 Sandia Math and Science Awards:

Outstanding Achievement in Mathematics

  • Nicole Park, Amador Valley High School
  • D’Aysia Johnson, Castlemont High School
  • Arnetta Olden, Coliseum College Preparatory Academy
  • Neha Harpanhalli, Dublin High School
  • Kelly Francesco Ball, East Union High School
  • Jasmine Zhang, Foothill High School
  • Silvia Pablo Cruz, Fremont High School
  • Colleen McCandless, Granada High School
  • Nikolle Sanchis, Lathrop High School
  • Zoe Russ, Livermore High School
  • Josie Voss, Merril F. West High School
  • Madelyn Beckner, Millenium High School
  • Areej Choudhry, Sierra High School
  • Isabella Ellis, Tracy High School
  • Renny Manansala, Weston Ranch High School

Outstanding Achievement in Science

  • Esha Chawla, Amador Valley High School
  • Ariana Perfino, ARISE High School
  • Ma. Cristina Arlantico, Castlemont High School
  • Paulina Vazquez, Coliseum College Preparatory Academy
  • Di Zhuang, Dublin High School
  • Nisha Prabhakar, Foothill High School
  • Ashley Zhuang, Granada High School
  • Kara Asuncion, John C. Kimball High School
  • Eghosa Ogbeide, Lathrop High School
  • Indira D’Souza, Livermore High School
  • Julia Tang, Manteca High School
  • Alyssa Costa, Merrill F. West High School
  • Ormina Naveed, Mountain House High School
  • Yuvleen Kaur, Millenium High School
  • Rakebe Gebrekidan, Oakland Technical High School
  • Sophia Sperman, San Leandro High School
  • Sophia Schmiedt, Sierra High School
  • Yael Berrol, Skyline High School
  • Meena Yuqob, Tracy High School

Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia Labs has major research and development responsibilities in nuclear deterrence, global security, defense, energy technologies and economic competitiveness, with main facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Livermore, California.

Sandia news media contact: Madeline Burchard,, 925-294-4758