The event began with introductions from UNM administration, including UNM Provost & Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Chaouki Abdallah, who remarked on the importance of women in STEM+A fields as shown to him through his wife, who is also an engineer.

“The difference in the way she thinks and the way I think is vast. When I have a big problem, I take it to my wife,” Abdallah said, adding that the world needs more women who think outside the box to solve society's looming problems.

The keynote speaker for the ceremony was Jill Hruby, the first women ever to run a U.S. nuclear weapons lab and director of Sandia National Laboratories. As a prominent woman in the STEM+A field, Hruby said she remembers her early struggles in college.

“There were some faculty members at the time who didn’t think that women should be mechanical engineers and really did not want me to pass their class and certainly didn’t want me to get an A,” Hruby said. “It provided me with a strength at a young age that has been very important as I’ve progressed through my career.”

Hruby discussed her early work, management offers at a young age and how the shock of 9/11 led to “responding to the needs of the nation.” After accepting her current position at Sandia Labs, Hruby said she had a realization.

“In every job I had up to this job, I actually thought being a woman was a disadvantage. I had to fight continuously to say, ‘I really do know enough. I know what I’m talking about. I can manage this organization,'” she said.

Hruby offered advice to women throughout each personal past recollection, saying that they shouldn't let obstacles keep them from reaching their goals. 

“By the way, your reputation will follow you through your entire career. You can make mistakes, but learn from them, admit to them and improve and it’ll be okay,” she said.

Hruby said it is possible to have hobbies and a flourishing personal life while still maintaining a rewarding career, pointing to her husband and two daughters as an example.

“I’ve been very intentional about staying involved in the communities I live and volunteering,” she said.

Hruby said there is one important piece of advice that helped her advance in the STEM+A fields more than perhaps any other.

“Ask questions, be curious, be inquisitive, and seek to understand," she said. “You can’t learn things if your ego gets in the way.”

Fifteen international students from Mexico join local STEM+A majors this summer for the month long program and will continue annually each summer. Of the events continuing through July 1st of this year, 4 more will be free and open to the public.

Sarah Trujillo is a reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.

Read the original press release here