Photo of Simon Arias

Happy Hispanic Heritage Month! Our final installment in this series introduces to you Simón Arias, an alumni of the NNSA Graduate Fellowship Program who now supports the High Explosives and Energetics office that is so key to our nuclear deterrent. Simón is a big fan of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor!

What is your cultural background? Where did you grow up? Are you bilingual?

My family’s cultural background traces our roots to Venezuela, Spain, and Poland. I grew up in Middletown, CT. I am not yet bilingual, but am working on my Spanish and Chinese.

How do you support NNSA?

I am a program analyst support contractor for the High Explosives and Energetics program office, within the Office of Production Modernization. The High Explosives and Energetics program mission is to sustain and modernize NNSA’s capability to process, produce, and manufacture high explosives and energetic materials – which contributes to the greater mission of ensuring we meet stockpile requirements and maintain our nation’s nuclear deterrent. I provide direct program management and organizational support to my program leadership and our team, helping to ensure we are on track and in compliance with the numerous efforts we participate in.

How did you become interested in the field you are in? How did you end up on this career path to this point?  

My academic background is in international relations and economics, and though I’ve had courses in nuclear nonproliferation, I wanted to learn about the defense and national security aspects of nuclear weapons. My conflict management class issued an academic report, “Korea: Managing a Nuclear Crisis” where I was a contributing author writing about the military rationale behind North Korea’s nuclear weapons. This was only scratching the surface on such a complex and technical subject. As I began to learn a little bit about nuclear science and engineering, I discovered I wanted more technical details, and kept asking more specific questions. I pursued a leadership opportunity on Nuclear Nonproliferation, Safeguards, and Security at Brookhaven National Laboratory and was eager to nerd out. During this program, I learned more about the international nonproliferation regime and about nuclear weapons. From here, I learned about the NNSA Graduate Fellowship Program ,operated by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and knew I had to apply. I saw this as my opportunity to enter the Nuclear Security Enterprise and dive into a unique career field. The NGFP fellowship placed me within an amazing team where I can learn and contribute, with so many brilliant people.

What’s one of your favorite things about working at NNSA?

My favorite thing about working at NNSA is the people – working alongside dedicated and brilliant minds in the enterprise. Every day I am reminded of how important our work is, and I also learn something new and fascinating that NNSA does. I have met scientists, engineers, physicists, and career civil servants who are a wealth of knowledge – all I want to do is talk to them about their experiences.

What are the characteristics of the best teams you have been on?

In my experience, I find that teams who have great camaraderie, and who empower and support each other, are the best teams I’ve been – and continue to be – a part of. One of my favorite characteristics about my team is that we make an effort to socialize and build our team-centric relationship. This has been helpful for me to get to know my fellow team members more personally, and for them to get to know me.

What advice would you give members of the Hispanic community who want to do what you do for NNSA?

Dive into a STEM field. Seek out opportunities that challenge you and help you grow personally and professionally. If something seems interesting to you or you’re thinking about pursuing that internship or fellowship, do it! No matter what role you play – large or small – you can always shape your experiences toward your desired career goals, and you never know where one opportunity may lead.

How will you celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month?

I’ll be celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month by reading Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir, “The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor” ~ “Mi Mundo Adorado” and her children’s book (in Spanish), “Turning Pages: My Life Story” ~ “Pasando Páginas: La historia de mi vida” and by supporting causes that empower the Hispanic and Latino community. There are numerous non-profits and organizations in the Capital region and across the country that work tirelessly for the Hispanic and Latino community through leadership programs, civic engagements, or professional opportunities. I’m a strong proponent of leadership and professional opportunities that empower young Hispanics and Latinos to take on experiences that challenge them and help them grow.

What leader or cultural figure would you like to recognize this month?

I’d like to recognize Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor for this Hispanic Heritage Month. In May 2009, I remember being glued to the news at my college dorm watching President Obama nominate Justice Sotomayor as the first Hispanic and first Latina to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. This was such a big deal for me, as I strongly believe diversity is our strength and our government should represent the diversity of our communities.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

During my spare time I enjoy being active – whether it’s doing CrossFit, hiking, and swimming – I also enjoy exploring new happy hour joints in the DMV region with friends, reading (I like sci-fi, fiction, and other types of genres), watching the latest streaming series, and travelling.