Editor's Note: This is one in a series of articles highlighting the diverse group of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory summer students.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) student internship program is designed to allow students to engage in work-study employment opportunities in relevant science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and administrative fields during the summer academic break. This year, LLNL is proud to welcome more than 600 students from universities nationwide and around the world.
Introducing: Valeria Santiago Morales
Full name: Valeria Beatriz Santiago Morales
Hometown: Yauco, Puerto Rico
University attending/educational background: I possess a bachelor's degree in civil engineering with a minor in environmental engineering from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez campus. I am still attending the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez campus, where I am pursuing a master's degree in structural engineering.
Major: Civil engineering
Graduation year: 2016
LLNL Directorate you are working in: National Ignition Facility (NIF) and Photon Science Principal Associate Directorate
What interested you in pursuing a summer internship at the Laboratory?
The interdisciplinary environment in which I could develop and improve my skills and become a more integrated professional.
What are you working on at the Laboratory?
My primary responsibility in NIF this summer was to simulate laser absorption and phase transitions using finite element models in COMSOL multi-physics for laser material processing. Basically, I am studying the behavior of the laser heating on plates (with different properties) for material processing. I have prior experience doing FEM simulations, but this was my first time working with lasers.
What do you enjoy most about interning at the Laboratory?
What I enjoy the most is the diversity that you can find here, the advanced technology used to conduct the investigations and the passion of the employees doing the work.
What have you learned (or are learning) that has made a difference to you?
During my internship I have learned to integrate with different cultures. I have never worked in an environment with so many people from different countries. It has been an amazing and eye-opening experience for me.
Where do you see yourself after graduation? What is your dream job?
Actually, I am still figuring out what I want to do after graduation. I would like to pursue a doctorate in a field that combines structural engineering and materials science, while being part of the workforce at the same time. My dream job is one where I can apply the skills acquired during my academic studies and job experiences during my internships, and where I can develop new ones for my professional growth and development.
Who/what has inspired you to pursue an education and career in a STEM field?
As a child, I have always belonged to advanced study groups in science and math due to my natural desire to understand everything related with it. I always knew I wanted to study something related to those fields. When I was about to finish high school, I knew that I wanted to become an engineer, and when I was accepted into the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, it enabled me to reach that goal. My mother encouraged me to enroll in civil engineering and now I am poised to earn my master's in civil engineering.
What has been your biggest challenge to overcome?
The language. Spanish is my first language and I have worked diligently to improve my knowledge of the English language as well as my ability to speak it. Although I can maintain a conversation in English, I know I need to continue to improve. My time here at the Laboratory has given me the opportunity to practice my English and I have found the experience to be invaluable. Another challenge during my studies has been getting noticed and recognized in a competitive career such as civil engineering, which is dominated by men.
What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment so far?
Having the privilege of interning at prestigious laboratories, such as LLNL. In past summers I worked at the Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) Information Technology Laboratory, the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory and the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory. Because of my experience with the ERDC, I have continued to work with them as an investigator (student contractor). I am working on my master's thesis on the environmental quality modeling and simulation project doing finite element analysis of hydraulic steel structures, specifically miter gates. The knowledge and experience I have gained working at each of these laboratories has been tremendous and will help me as I progress in my career.
As a college student, what is the most important lesson you have learned?
To persevere and take advantage of the opportunities. I also learned to always leave each opportunity with a good impression of me as a person and of my skills and capability. I believe you should always give your best in everything you do, no matter how complex or difficult the challenge may be.
What advice would you give a high school student?
The sky is the limit. What I mean by this is, with perseverance and genuine desire, every dream can be reached and every barrier can be overcome. Get in contact with the right people and network as much as you can.
What do you like to do in your spare time? What are your hobbies?
To try and catch up on sleep that I missed during the work week! After that, I love spending time with my family and/or friends. Every person that has pursued or is pursuing higher education degrees know that time is a factor. We must make sacrifices to follow our dreams and sometimes miss out on experiences with our friends. Other things I like to do in my free time is dance tropical movements with my friends, read, draw and paint ceramic figures.
What is next for you/what are you looking forward to?
My next step is to finish my master's degree and continue acquiring experience to become a complete and successful professional.
To learn more about summer internships and the Laboratory's scholar programs, visit the scholars@llnl website.
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