Ms. Wendy Baca initiated a second career with Los Alamos National Laboratory in June 2012, as an Executive Advisor in the Principal Associate Directorate for the Weapons Program, supporting initiatives including the NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan and Strategic Deterrence.
Ms. Wendy Baca initiated a second career with Los Alamos National Laboratory in June 2012, as an Executive Advisor in the Principal Associate Directorate for the Weapons Program, supporting initiatives including the NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan and Strategic Deterrence. Ms. Baca has served previously for 25 years as an engineer and Federal Program Manager for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Ms. Baca worked cross-cutting stockpile issues and initiatives, including managing the nation’s long-term plans for plutonium capability and contracting strategies for the agency. Her successful management of the Dismantlement program from 1998 to 2008 resulted in annual weapons dismantlement quantity increases for four consecutive years.
Ms. Baca started with the Department of Energy in 1987 where she was the program engineer for numerous nuclear weapon systems. She also held other unique positions such as the AT-400A Pit Container Program Manager, Pantex Zone 4 Stage Right Program Manager, and Acting Director of the Nuclear Explosive Safety Division.
Ms. Baca holds a B. S. from the University of Arizona and an M.S. from New Mexico State University both in Industrial Engineering.
1) What inspired you to work in STEM?
I had originally planned to go into nursing but, after a stay in the hospital between my college freshman and sophomore years, I realized that nursing was not right for me. When I mentioned this to my father, he recommended engineering. Although he was a physician, he was noticing how engineering was becoming a strong career path in the US with numerous options. I initially switched to Chemical Engineering but, realized that wasn’t right for me, either. I then transferred to Industrial Engineering which was a great fit. Even though I started off not pursuing STEM and I moved around a bit, I was always thankful that I took my father’s advice.
2) What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
I think the most exciting aspect is the combination of service to our country and unique work. To be able to have this combination is both rewarding and challenging.
3) How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
I think intimidation that it is difficult is one thing that might prevent these underrepresented groups from becoming engaged in STEM. I think they could become more inspired if they better understood the “cause and effect” of STEM. A cell phone, for example, is a successful STEM achievement that everyone uses every day. I believe that a great way to indicate this STEM achievement and target these underrepresented groups is through advertising and commercials. For example, the automobile industry often weaves engineering references into their commercials. I think that if more companies tailored their advertising just a bit, we could promote more engagement in STEM. A cell phone commercial could still have a catchy video with music but also slip in a STEM-related message such as “computer science at its finest” to pique the interest of these underrepresented groups. Just hearing the words “computer science” or “engineering” and thus, making the connection with something people use every day, could reduce intimidation and inspire others to engage in STEM.
4) Do you have tips you’d recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Probably the most important thing I could recommend – as evidence by my personal experience - is to not be intimidated and to not be in a hurry. I was definitely overwhelmed a few times but, I never gave up and I’m really glad I didn’t.
5) When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
I don’t really have any specific hobbies but, I try to spend time with my two kids – a college student and a senior in high school. Otherwise, I like to exercise and go on walks with my friends. Another fun thing I try to do a few times a year is take weekend trips to connect with friends I’ve met during my career that live in other locations throughout the country.