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2019 LANL Scholar Nathaniel Gonzales

Pecos Student Embraces Change and Challenge

The summer before his senior year, Nathaniel Gonzales started running toward his future. Staying with his older brother in the tiny town of Quemado, NM, Nathaniel would run the length of the village and back again, every single day.

“I had never been in sports before, but I thought I should experience something athletic, and I’d heard cross country was fun. I was way out of my comfort zone, but I tried it and liked it. I learned to get into the mindset of running, and it was life-changing.”

When he returned to Pecos High School, Nathaniel joined the track team, soon becoming one of the best distance runners in the district.

Goodbye, Comfort Zone

Trying new things and challenging himself became a habit for Nathaniel, who was selected as Pecos High Valedictorian in 2019. He overcame a fear of speaking in front of an audience by signing up for dual credit classes in public speaking at Santa Fe Community College. He won leading roles in the Pecos High productions “Of Mice and Men” and “La Llorona.”

“My public speaking skills were so bad, but the class helped alleviate the pressure. Still, the first time I stepped on stage it was so nerve-wracking. And then I had to do it multiple times—it was hard, but doing those events really helped me be more outspoken.”

Another new experience for Nathaniel came through his involvement in the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.

“It really changed me. Now it’s bittersweet to say goodbye to my ‘Little.’ We’ve been together every week for two years. I learned that no matter what I did or what I said, he was watching and listening. It made me a better listener and taught me to communicate, to talk through and explain things.”

Nathaniel’s appetite for academic adventure continued with his participation in Mock Trial. The extracurricular program allows students to participate in rehearsed courtroom trials to learn about the legal system.

“We had three competitions against other teams, so I had to speak in front of judges,” he said, describing one of the sessions as especially high-charged because a certain prominent, local attorney was presiding.

According to Nathaniel, learning to embrace stressful situations is all part of being a leader. He shared what he’s learned with other Pecos grads during the recent commencement ceremony.

“In my speech, I told the students to be in the moment. If you feel uncomfortable, that means you’re changing. You’re in a situation where you really have to think, and that’s when you’re evolving. If you are out of your comfort zone, that’s probably because you have the chance to grow, and sometimes it’s best to take those chances.”

Academic Achievement, a Family Focus

This fall, Nathaniel heads to the University of New Mexico to study either computer science or biotechnology with the support of a $10,000 John and Marti Browne Leadership Scholarship from the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Foundation and Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund (LAESF). Ultimately, he wants to research ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to solutions for climate change.

“I want to make a difference with climate change because I was born during a time when our world is dying, changing for the worse. I want to look for new ideas and inventions to help with greenhouse gas emissions and alternative fuels. Someday I want to have children, and I want them to have a better world.”

Nathaniel’s passion to improve the planet for future generations is shared by his sister, also a former scholarship recipient who completed her bachelor’s degree at UNM and is now enrolled in the university’s medical school.

“My sister Nicolette has always inspired me. She’s done amazing things and I want to be like her,” said the proud brother.

As a son of deaf parents, Nathaniel learned American Sign Language. He was always encouraged by his father, who set an example of hard work and determination for the family.

“My dad showed me that nothing is impossible, because he raised five kids by himself.  I’m also inspired by my grandma, who has always been there for me.”

At school, Nathaniel is especially grateful to his English teacher, MaryBeth Britton, who urged him to apply for the LAESF Scholarship and offered support throughout the process. When he learned that he was selected to receive a John and Marti Browne Leadership Scholarship, Nathaniel felt both a sense of accomplishment and relief that a financial burden had been lifted.

“Having the scholarship is so important. It means a lot to know I have something there that will help me avoid student debt.”

This will be a busy summer for Nathaniel, as he attends UNM student orientation and makes the daily commute from Pecos to Los Alamos National Laboratory to work as an intern in the Computer, Computational and Statistical Sciences—Information Sciences Group.

Again following in his sister’s footsteps, Nathaniel will carpool with the same friends and Lab employees who made the journey with Nicolette five years ago.

As he reflects on his high school experience, Nathaniel recalls the final sentence in his scholarship application: “My experiences have pushed me to go the extra mile, to push myself so I can be the best person I can be.”

Now the scholar and track athlete will run full speed toward his next challenge, away from his comfort zone, eager to meet the future ahead.

Story by Janet Wise; photo above: LANL Foundation, Andrea Neal; other photos: courtesy Nathaniel Gonzales

About LAESF & How to Donate  

The Los Alamos Employees’ Scholarship Fund began in 1998 and gets its name from the main source of donations: Los Alamos National Laboratory employees, contractors, and retirees. Donations also come from community members and local businesses that value education and economic development in the region. The scholarship program and funds are managed and administered by the nonprofit LANL Foundation. Award selections, student outreach, and programmatic support are provided by an advisory committee of volunteer donors.

Lab employees may donate year-round to a variety of funds through the LANL Giving Tool. LANL Foundation also accepts direct contributions at www.lanlfoundation.org/give and assists donors in creating individual endowed awards with defined selections criteria.

For more information, contact LANL Foundation Scholarship Program Manager Mike Ammerman at scholarships@lanlfoundtion.org or 505-753-8890 ext. 115.