Thousands of miles separate the hometowns of Patrick Sena and Abraham Ellis. Sena grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Ellis in Chitre, Panama, but they shared upbringings centered on family, community and culture.
“What does it mean to be Hispanic?” said Ellis, manager of Photovoltaic and Distributed Systems at Sandia National Laboratories. “I think about it a lot. Our culture is rich and diverse, and that’s a good thing. The world I grew up in was totally different from Patrick’s, but in many ways the same. There is so much diversity there.”
Sena said his family preserves traditions handed down through generations along with values of respect, civility and recognizing life’s milestones. “I represent one of the major ethnicities in the world, and it means a lot to me to represent it well and also to be an effective contributor to national security and a better world,” said Sena, deputy chief engineer in Sandia’s Stockpile Systems Center.
Sena and Ellis were named 2015 HENAAC Award winners by Great Minds in STEM, Sena for Lifetime Achievement and Ellis for Outstanding Technical Achievement. They will join other honorees at the 27th annual HENAAC conference in Pasadena, California, Oct. 14-18. The event coincides with National Hispanic Heritage Month.
HENAAC, formerly the Hispanic Engineering National Achievement Awards Corp., honors the best STEM minds in the country. Each winner is peer reviewed and chosen by representatives of industry, government, military and academic institutions. Great Minds in STEM also promotes those fields to youth from underserved and underrepresented communities.
Sena and Ellis are the 33rd and 34th Sandia Labs staff members to win the prestigious award in the past 19 years. Both said they were humbled and hope to use the recognition to motivate others.
“I have a renewed sense of purpose,” Ellis said. “I want minorities to play a larger role in our country in STEM. It’s a goal worth fighting for, and I’ll do that any day.”
Sena said young people need role models and mentors. “I want to share my story to inspire them about how the elements of creativity, motivation, curiosity, work ethic, work/life balance and communication can propel them into a rewarding and impactful career in STEM,” he said.