Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
The sky is the limit for Albuquerque student Patrick Baca.
Baca, who will graduate this fall from College and Career High School, is one of four students in the nation to earn a Future STEM Leaders Scholarship from The Aerospace Corp.
The engineering and technology laboratory supports federal space and nuclear initiatives, and has a large facility in the Uptown area of Albuquerque.
“My first biology class in middle school really sparked my interest in science,” Baca said. “It was a challenge, but I like that, with science and math, there’s a prospect of helping people.”
Baca will receive a $5,000 award once he is accepted into a four-year college. Five Aerospace employees will serve as mentors for the next year.
The 17-year-old already has earned associate degrees in liberal arts and sociology from Central New Mexico Community College. And he will graduate high school with an associate degree in biology under his belt.
Baca said he is thinking about careers in developing chemical and biological defense systems, or forensic science.
“I’m excited about learning from people who are already in the industry who can help me with my college and career goals,” Baca said.
Baca serves on a student government group, and plays the bassoon and flute in band. He wants to attend either New Mexico Tech or the University of New Mexico.
Scholarship winners will attend an eight-day virtual Aerospace camp this summer.
The outreach programs aim to introduce more students to science careers, especially aspiring first-generation college students, said Ricardo Espindola, Aerospace’s associate principal director of the Space Innovation Directorate.
Espindola grew up in Laguna Pueblo and received a physics degree at New Mexico Tech before working at Kirtland Air Force Base and joining Aerospace.
“It’s important for us to be able to reach out to high school juniors and younger students to share these opportunities,” he said. “As a kid, little did I know that, 20 miles away from our pueblo, was the Air Force base where I would get to do some really exciting projects with astronauts and with NASA.”
Baca was selected for the scholarship based on his grades, science interests, service to his school community, an essay and a counselor recommendation.
Other recipients hail from Alexandria, Virginia; Huntsville, Alabama; and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Aerospace also encourages students to voice their ideas for research and technologies.
“There’s a lot of smart kids out there,” Espindola said. “And it’s always good for them to have someone who’s been in their shoes that they can kind of follow along, and learn from our mistakes and our successes.”