UNM event aims to plug the brain drain - Albuquerque Journal

UNM event aims to plug the brain drain

It’s been 18 years since the Santa Fe-born Sergio Ita left New Mexico for the U.S. Marine Corps college, and graduate school. Now, he’s thinking about coming home.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind,” said Ita, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Diego who researches drug resistance. “But it really comes down to finding the right position.”

Ita is one of about 100 individuals who participated in the first full day of the

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Elena Delgado and Hoang Bui, student volunteers at the NEWS Symposium, coordinated interviews between New Mexico-based companies and conference participants. (Marie C. Baca/Journal)

New Mexico Educated Workforce in STEM Symposium, an event hosted by the University of New Mexico’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Development. Maggie Werner-Washburne, the initiative’s director, said the event was aimed at two groups: the state’s young science, technology, engineering, and mathematics professionals, and those STEM professionals who live elsewhere.

“This is all about bringing you back to New Mexico or finding reasons for you to stay,” she told a full auditorium at UNM’s Science and Math Learning Center.

To that end, she said she reached out to her personal database of over 500 former students who have left the state to encourage them to attend the symposium, the agenda for which includes networking events, a job fair and panels on various New Mexican industries.

Ita said he was one of those on Werner-Washburne’s list.

“She listened to what I was looking for, and helped me identify people I should speak with (at the symposium),” said Ita. “I have a couple of informal interviews set up.”

Eighteen organizations were scheduled to participate at the event, including Sandia National Laboratories, Johnson & Johnson’s Ethicon division and software company Lavu.

The symposium also attracted Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and his wife Liz Kistin Keller, a principal systems analyst at Sandia Labs who spoke about how her career path led her to New Mexico.

In his remarks to participants, Mayor Keller acknowledged that companies based in cities like Albuquerque often have difficulty competing in areas with higher average wages.

“We want to change that, but we also want to be realistic about the fact that being here often means sacrificing some of that monetary award,” said Keller.

What New Mexico can offer to its homegrown professionals, said Keller, is something many other places can’t: low cost of living, a diverse community and the opportunity to be near family.

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