Women's History Month Spotlight for Carmen Ekstrom

How do you support NNSA? 

I support NNSA’s Office of General Counsel by providing assistance and advice on all matters relating to intellectual property, including inventions, patents, trademark, and copyrights. I work with sites and partners across the Nuclear Security Enterprise. I review, draft, and prosecute patent applications, review research publications for potentially patentable material, counsel on contract and technology transfer intellectual property matters such as rights in inventions, patents, technical data, and computer software. 

I believed that with optimism, perseverance, grit, and passion; achievement, security, and success will follow. 

Carmen Ekstrom
General Counsel

What is your personal background, and how has that shaped you and your approach to your career?  

I was born in the Philippines. My mother, as well as my younger brother, died during childbirth when I was 4 years old. I was raised by my father’s sister alongside seven half-siblings from his previous marriage. I was the youngest and darkest in the family. Because of my color, I was always teased by my older half-siblings, so I learned discrimination at an early age. My childhood made me strong and gave me optimism. I believed that with optimism, perseverance, grit, and passion; achievement, security, and success will follow. 

I was fortunate to immigrate to the United States when I finished my B.S. Chemistry degree. I worked as a chemist at Libby, McNeil & Libby in Chicago.  I was curious and moved around a lot as new opportunities presented themselves, and added more to my skillset. After 5 years, I moved to Washington D.C. and worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and then as a Patent Examiner at United States Patent & Trademark Office. I met my husband there and went to law school part time by taking advantage of their tuition assistance program.

What did you study in school and how did it impact you personally and professionally?

I received my B.S. in Chemistry, M.S. in Biotechnology, Juris Doctor, and M.S. in Intellectual Property. 

After working as a Patent Examiner for three years, an opportunity came along when an attorney interviewing to advance prosecution of his patent application encouraged me to work for his law firm. 

When my husband got a job at a biotechnology company, we moved to California.  I also found a job as a patent attorney for a biotechnology company in Silicon Valley. I have followed a variety of paths to realize my career ambitions and experienced diverse roles in patent law. My goal was to be a successful lawyer in whatever mode that took.  

What led you to a career in nuclear security? 

I would say serendipity.  While my family was on a Southwest tour visiting South Dakota (my son wanted to see Mt. Rushmore), Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, and Arizona, we decided to make a short detour to Santa Fe, New Mexico. We fell in love with Santa Fe. Because of high cost of living and congestion in California, we decided to move to Santa Fe. The rest was history.

I got a job as a legal assistant at NNSA in Albuquerque.  A year later, one of the patent attorneys retired. I applied for the job and got it. I have been with NNSA for eight years and will be with NNSA until I retire.

I’m fortunate to be involved with innovation, cutting edge science and new technologies, supercomputing, quantum energy, chip fabrication, and potential commercialization. 

Carmen Ekstrom
General Counsel

What is the best part about your job? 

Everything – I love the people that I work with.  Everyone is so nice and helpful. I like working with the attorneys at the laboratories, as well as Headquarters. 

I’m fortunate to be involved with innovation, cutting edge science and new technologies, supercomputing, quantum energy, chip fabrication, and potential commercialization. 

What is your proudest accomplishment while supporting NNSA?

I am proud of the work I did processing a manufacturing waiver for a major industry partner, with whom NNSA has shared a decade-long research and development contracts relationship which is mutually beneficial. The company was selected as lead component supplier for fleet of next generation high performance computing system deployments, which is important not only for the Nuclear Security Enterprise but the future of innovation in computing.

I also processed a waiver for another industry partner when a project was at risk of losing funding, due to previous delays. Thanks to my efforts, we managed to get the waiver in place in time to keep the funding, and the project was able to move forward successfully.

Tell us something interesting about yourself. 

I love to travel. I like the outdoors –  hiking, camping, snowshoeing, and tennis. I enjoy mahjong and play golf every week. I like going to concerts, Shakespeare theatre, opera, art galleries, and museums., and participate in a monthly book club. .  My husband and I attend a gourmet cooking group and cook a new dish from a different culture every month. I meet with a group of Spanish speaking friends for a monthly lunch and practice our Spanish language. Lastly, since I live in Santa Fe, I want to take some art lessons and learn how to paint the awesome sunsets, beautiful clouds, the desert, and mountains.