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Math skill put Sandia Labs HENAAC honoree on the path to success

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Edward Jimenez, a Sandia National Laboratories applied mathematician, was named a 2014 HENAAC Award winner as Most Promising Engineer/Advanced Degree by Great Minds in STEM. He joins other honorees at the 26th annual HENAAC conference in New Orleans from Oct. 2-4.

HENAAC award winner Edward Jimenez of Sandia National Laboratories says applied mathematics lets him look for challenging problems in areas that don’t necessarily overlap. “The common language between them is math,” he says. (Photo by Stephanie Blackwell) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

HENAAC, formerly the Hispanic Engineering National Achievement Awards Corp., honors the best STEM minds in the country. Nominees are peer-reviewed and chosen by representatives of industry, government, military and academic institutions. Great Minds in STEM promotes those fields to underserved and underrepresented communities.

Jimenez grew up in the southern California farming community of El Centro, where admitting you were good at math, and liked it, wasn’t easy. “I lost some friends. They said I changed, that I wasn’t the same guy anymore,” he said. “But I didn’t worry about it. You have to find what makes you happy. It sounds clichéd but it’s the absolute truth.”

And just as his high school friends were surprised, so were his peers at San Diego State University (SDSU). He interviewed with the dean of the College of Sciences for a spot in the Maximizing Access to Research Careers, or MARC, program. At the orientation the dean walked straight past Jimenez and into her office. “She said she had to ask her secretary who I was,” Jimenez said. “When she first interviewed me, I was in a suit with my hair pulled back. At orientation I wore long hair, earrings, black shorts and an Ozzy Osbourne T-shirt. She thought I was an academic probation student.”

But Jimenez knew who he was. “I can look however I want and it doesn’t mean I have to be a certain type of person,” he said. “Not a whole lot of scientists I know have the goatee, shaved head and earrings. But I don’t feel I’m disregarded in any way. I and others know what I’m capable of.”

Mom kept him on track

The award makes Jimenez a role model for young people, but he said he wasn’t always a great student. “There were peaks and valleys from daycare through high school,” he said. “I didn’t do well as a freshman because I was obsessed with what my friends thought of me.”

A constant was his mother’s emphasis on science, technology and math. “She showed me how to add and subtract before kindergarten,” he said. “I loved all the science shows like Mr. Wizard’s World and Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

He was interested in everything from biology to astronomy to physics, and wanted to be an astronaut or scientist when he grew up. But in high school friends and girls got his attention.

His mom pulled him back.

“She was very tough on me,” Jimenez said. “I was grounded on a weekly basis. But what she was saying eventually stuck. I realized I wasn’t trying.”

Gradually he quit goofing off and focused on what he wanted to do in life. “As a senior I looked back and saw that I consistently had an A in math. It came easy to me,” he said. “When I told my pre-calculus teacher, who was in his 70s, that I had declared math as my college major, he did cartwheels he was so happy. There weren’t a lot of math majors.”

Programs encouraged college success

Jimenez said he had no intention of going to graduate school. He was the first member of his family to go to college. “I had the mentality of ‘Cs get degrees,’ in college,” he said. “I thought I would just get a job after I graduated.”

But then the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation, a national STEM outreach program, offered him the chance to enroll in an introductory calculus course the summer before his first semester at SDSU. “They paid you to participate and gave you a graphing calculator, the most advanced technology I had ever used. That program played a huge role in putting me on the right path, to plan past a bachelor’s degree. It put me in touch with people who showed me how to be a college student.”

Jimenez carried a 4.0 grade-point average his first two years and caught the attention of the McNair Scholars Program, a U.S. Department of Education initiative to increase the number of doctorates among groups historically underrepresented in graduate programs. McNair placed Jimenez in a summer program that allowed him to do research under faculty guidance.

In 2004, Jimenez earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with an emphasis in computational science from SDSU, followed in 2010 by a doctorate in applied mathematics from the University of Arizona. He interned at Sandia starting in 2007 and was hired after finishing his doctorate.

Jimenez leads an effort to develop a way to identify the composition of a material from an X-ray image as a member of a Laboratory Directed Research and Development (LDRD) project in radiography. The three-year project has produced several papers and patents. A previous Early Career LDRD, in which Jimenez was the principal investigator, developed ways to reconstruct big data using computer tomography and multiple processors, cutting a process that can take years down to less than a day, while conserving energy. The project, which has four patents pending, wrapped up in 2013.

A role model to young people

Jimenez was nominated for the HENAAC award by Sandia President and Laboratories Director Paul Hommert, who described him as “continually demonstrating integrity, technical knowledge, innovative research, excellent communication skills and superb leadership and teamwork, especially in nurturing the development of future scientists and engineers while making his own impressive accomplishments.”

Jimenez, who said winning the HENAAC was humbling and a high point in his career, reaches out to high school students in Albuquerque through Sandia’s Manos and similar programs. “I tell them that the fact you’re sitting here interested shows you have some level of potential, and you need to pursue that,” he said. “Yes, some of my friends didn’t want to hang with me anymore once I started doing well in school, even though nothing about me changed. But what’s more important to you, having a friend now or being successful the rest of your life?”

Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies and economic competitiveness.

Sandia news media contact: Nancy Salem,, (505) 844-2739