Accelerate Student Launches Career in Space Research

Return to College Results in Internships at Fermilab, Cornell University, YXO Inc. and LANL

Pojoaque, New Mexico, native Sheri Lopez remembers being fascinated by space and the stars for as long as she can remember. But she wasn’t encouraged to follow her interest in science when growing up. After originally attempting to follow a path others had chosen for her, now she is following her dreams and plans to design devices that explore the universe.

In 2015, Sheri will participate in a summer internship at Cornell University, earn her Associate’s Degree in Pre-Engineering, and transfer to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT). The first in her family to earn a college degree, Sheri is on the verge of launching a career that will build a better life for herself and her 3-year old son.

Growing up, Sheri remembers being told that she should be an English teacher by one of her math instructors. “In the community where I grew up, women were encouraged to become teachers, not scientists,” she says.

Following high school, she briefly enrolled in Eastern New Mexico University before dropping out and moving to California, where she worked in retail for several years. When the recession hit and most of her work hours disappeared, she moved back to Pojoaque. After much inward reflection, Sheri decided to enroll in the University of New Mexico – Los Alamos (UNM-LA). It was here that she figured out that she actually liked math and decided to pursue her interest in science.

Sheri joined the Accelerate program based on the stipend payments that could be earned for attending career readiness events and participating in internships while attending UNM-LA. However, she soon realized that the advice, support and encouragement provided by Grace Willerton, the Accelerate program Career Technical Advisor, were more important than the money. According to Sheri, “Grace found opportunities and encouraged me to apply for them.“

Sheri took advantage of every opportunity that came her way. She applied for and received a Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Foundation Scholarship. Then, in 2014, she applied for a summer internship at Fermilab in Illinois and was one of only eight students to receive this prestigious opportunity, where she helped build a code library for the MINERvA neutrino beam.

In the fall of 2014, Sheri carried a load of 21 credit hours and also worked on two separate internships. Thanks to her growing confidence and intrepid networking skills, Sheri called LANL employees to find a mentor who would support her for a Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internship (SULI) and she also contacted the CEO of YXO Inc. to ask about interning there. YXO Inc., the manufacturer of lighter, safer, and stronger carbon fiber structures that are used in aerospace, enlisted Sheri to work on a muon tracker production project. Because she was carrying such a heavy academic load at the time, her YXO supervisor allowed her to work eight hours each Sunday for the duration of the 100-hour internship paid for by Accelerate.

Even before earning her Associate’s degree, Sheri has been offered the work of her dreams. Next fall, she will transfer to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology to pursue a four-year degree in Mechanical Engineering with a dual minor in Aerospace and Physics. While there, she will participate in the undergraduate internship program at LANL, working with the Space and Science Application Group.

Sheri credits the Accelerate program and UNM-LA with helping her to open doors and to expand her universe. The sky is truly the limit for this rising star!

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