Every Friday, Maribel Dominguez leaves her home in Los Alamos, N.M., and drives for an hour to Santa Fe to work with native Spanish-speaking students who are learning English as a second language.
“I like seeing the smiles on their faces,” when they catch on to things like fractions or sentence structure, she said.
Fridays are Dominguez’s day off from the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Los Alamos Field Office. She is a Quality Assurance Engineer for the field office Mission Assurance and Infrastructure organization. Her introduction to NNSA and to Northern New Mexico came via the NNSA Graduate Fellowship Program.
A native of El Paso, Texas, Dominguez is fluent in English and Spanish. When a colleague told her about the Communities In Schools of New Mexico’s need for Spanish-speaking STEM volunteers, Maribel wasted no time signing up. Her tutoring began back in high school. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - the essential building blocks to accomplishing the U.S. Department of Energy's mission.
“When I heard about CIS, I thought ‘this is the perfect opportunity for me,’” she said. Dominguez is working toward her master’s degree in chemical engineering.
Last year, she tutored students at the Milagro Middle School in Santa Fe. This year, she's helping students at the Nina Otero Community School which serves students pre-K through 8th grade.
Alex Mazares, CIS site coordinator at Nina Otero, said the first exercise for students and their tutors is a meet-and-greet, for which Dominguez recently engaged.
We want our students to feel empowered, to take ownership of their education, to take the necessary steps to learn and grow. A lot of that comes from the confidence they gain through building positive relationships.
“Relationship building is so important,” Mazares said, “especially in middle school. We want our students to feel empowered, to take ownership of their education, to take the necessary steps to learn and grow. A lot of that comes from the confidence they gain through building positive relationships.”
The CIS mission is “To surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.” The program is more than 40 years old and is the nation’s largest and most effective organization dedicated to keeping kids in school. CIS is working in 10 public schools in New Mexico, serving more than 6,000 students, pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
Currently, Dominguez is tutoring five students whom she recently met for the first time. Some of the students do not fully understand English yet and not all of the teachers speak Spanish. Last year, Dominguez and the teachers developed a system to keep students tracking with the curriculum and prepared to graduate to the next grade.
“I meet with the teacher before class. The teacher provides me with the materials they covered during the week, and I head to the library with the student(s) to work on the exam, quiz or missed homework,” Dominguez explained.
DOE administers the STEM Rising program to inspire, educate, and spark an upwards trajectory to lifelong success in STEM through sharing the Department's programs, resources, competitions, events, internship opportunities and more.