Stephanie Kuzio has been a Sandia National Laboratories employee for 31 years and is currently the manager of the Energy Water Systems Integration department. She manages a team of early, mid and late career technical staff with expertise in environmental engineering, civil engineering, hydrology, and data, modeling and analysis for the energy-water nexus. Stephanie’s team develops science-based engineering solutions, guided by the understanding of natural and human engineered systems to ensure safe and secure energy water systems for the nation. The availability of adequate water supplies has a profound impact on the availability of energy, while energy production and power generation activities affect the availability and quality of water.
Stephanie began her career at Sandia as a technician in the Facilities group after graduating from Broome Community College in upstate New York. While taking classes at Broome, Stephanie also raised a son as a single parent. She attended the University of New Mexico on a part-time basis while working at Sandia, and eventually took advantage of an opportunity to leave Sandia to attend the University of Maryland where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Civil Engineering. After earning her master’s degree, she was employed by the Maryland State Highway Administration for 2 years as a highway and bridge hydraulic engineer. Ultimately Stephanie, her husband, and two sons returned to New Mexico in 1998, and she rejoined the Sandia workforce as a technical staff member on the Yucca Mountain Project. As a technical staff member Stephanie performed modeling and analysis for the saturated zone sub-system. Stephanie eventually was promoted to the position of manager of the Yucca Mountain Project Natural Systems Performance Assessment team for the post-closure science portion of the project’s License Application submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008.
What inspired you to work in STEM?
I grew up in a river valley at the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers. When US Interstate 81 was under construction in my hometown of Binghamton, New York, I was fascinated by not only the road construction but the engineered changes to the Chenango River that allowed the new interstate to be constructed. In middle school through high school, I enjoyed math and science, along with art, music, skiing and was a competitive gymnast, all of which provided a foundation for my STEM career.
My path to STEM was a nontraditional one. As a single parent I chose to pursue Civil Engineering Technology because that discipline brought together my interests in math, science, and art. I knew little about Civil Engineering but imagined I could become a surveyor and work outside or be part of the design of buildings and bridges.
I interviewed with a Sandia on-campus recruiter at the encouragement of one of my professors, and ultimately received a job offer and moved to New Mexico. Working as a technician at Sandia inspired me to pursue my bachelor’s degree even though I could only attend one or two classes per semester due to working full time and family responsibilities. A key lesson I learned as a technician was that the best engineers were creative engineers!
What excites you about your work at the Energy Department?
My work at Sandia has provided me with opportunities to be a part of a team of experts working towards solving complex national challenges such as the Yucca Mountain project to address the disposal of High-Level Nuclear Waste.
The team I currently manage performs data modeling and analysis to ensure a secure energy and water future for the nation in the face of a changing climate and increased demands for energy and water. Working at Sandia has allowed me to benefit from key mentoring opportunities as well as serve as a mentee to others. I have also enjoyed my collaborations with outstanding colleagues both within Sandia and with other Department of Energy National Laboratories.
How can our country engage more women, girls, and other underrepresented groups in STEM?
I believe there are several factors that have limited women, girls and underrepresented groups from pursuing careers in STEM fields, and much research has explored this topic. One factor is to break down the stereotypes of what an engineer or scientist is, what they do, how to succeed in this field and the benefits of a STEM career.
Math and science education in late elementary school and middle school are essential to establish a solid math background and interest in science. I volunteered for many years in fourth and fifth grades, both in Maryland and in New Mexico, to tutor students who were below grade level in math; many of my students were girls. I believe younger girls who see a woman in a STEM career could be inspired to pursue a similar career.
STEM programs at the community college level are key for serving underrepresented and nontraditional students in science and engineering. Encouragement from faculty members at both the community college and university undergraduate and graduate levels are also important.
The University of Maryland’s Women in Engineering program established in the mid-1990’s, is an example that provides STEM-related resources to current students and also provides extensive STEM outreach activities. While a graduate student at Maryland, I participated in STEM outreach to local high schools and taught a STEM summer class for high school students.
Do you have tips you'd recommend for someone looking to enter your field of work?
Math and science are a great foundation to launch a career in engineering. Being creative, open to new ideas, and working on a team in dynamic environments are essential skills. Teachers and professors are great sources for STEM programs and information. STEM programs can also be found outside of school activities.
Once you have decided on a path forward in a STEM field, be prepared to work hard, persevere through setbacks, and never loose sight of your goals.
When you have free time, what are your hobbies?
In my free time I enjoy hiking, competitive tennis, gardening, sewing and downhill and cross-country skiing. Spending time with my husband, two adult sons, and our grandchildren are my most favorite activities of all!
Learn more about our programs & resources for women and girls in STEM at /women