ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Tony Garcia often reflects on his grandfather’s words: “Work hard and be good to people, and you’ll end up happy.”
This simple principle has been Garcia’s beacon throughout his academic and professional journeys, and now has led to his recognition with a prestigious 2023 Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers STAR of Today award for technical achievement.
The STAR awards recognize individuals in STEM who are not only excelling in their fields but also making a significant impact through their work, research and community outreach.
“This is a really big deal for me,” Garcia said. “I strive to make a difference in my career and life while not standing out, so receiving this award feels both exciting and a little awkward. But I share this recognition with my colleagues because we’ve accomplished something together, which makes it even more meaningful.”
The grandson of immigrants, Garcia watched as the generations before him struggled to make ends meet. “My grandfather brought his young wife and four children from Chile to America in pursuit of the American dream,” Garcia said. “My mom was 8 years old before her first car ride.
“Eventually my dad went to college while working construction and earned a degree in computer science,” he said. But their struggles lingered, and Garcia’s parents urged him to seek job stability rather than advanced degrees, a sentiment shaped by their own experiences. “That was probably a byproduct of their young lives,” he said. “They were always very loving and supportive.”
However, Garcia’s determination led him to a doctorate in mechanical engineering at the University of New Mexico. His decision was strongly supported by his grandfather, who had been an engineer in Chile before fleeing political unrest.
“He really understood what I was going through,” Garcia said. “The sacrifices involved — the financial sacrifice, missed opportunities and a delayed career. He always encouraged me to pursue my education and acquire as much knowledge as possible. ‘Just continue getting your degree,’ he would say. ‘Keep improving your education. Learn as much as you can, and things will work out.’”
During his doctoral studies, Garcia seized an opportunity to intern at Sandia Labs, where he researched nuclear fuels. The experience not only helped shape his dissertation but also introduced him to Sandia’s team-science culture, dedicated to addressing vital national security missions. Garcia was inspired by the work of the team and found his calling in contributing to global security.
“It was a great fit,” he said. “This was a place I wanted to be. I love being a part of an effort to keep the world safe.”
Since joining Sandia in 2007, Garcia has played a pivotal role in developing concepts, advancing technologies, enhancing diagnostics, supporting production and resolving complex issues to address national security challenges. His responsibilities include creating test plans, procedures and reports; crafting project proposals and specifications; optimizing manufacturing processes and conducting statistical analyses of experimental data.
“It’s been a really rewarding journey, and I believe our team has accomplished a great deal for the Labs and the nation,” he said.
While Garcia’s professional accomplishments are impressive, his personal commitment to community engagement is equally inspiring.
“As we gain levels of success, we must remember to look back and reach out to those who are coming up behind us,” he said. “It only takes a few key people at key moments in life to inspire a generation. We can have an enormous impact on the lives of others.”
As a UNM student, Garcia actively participated in a NASA training project, providing academic and financial support to underrepresented science students.
Currently, he volunteers for various STEM outreach programs, including through UNM’s Young Children’s Health Center. He develops STEM demonstrations for at-risk teens and leads STEM demonstrations for elementary school students. He also is part of Sandia’s working fathers mentoring group and a founding member of the St. Chad’s Episcopal Church Men’s Group, focusing on fellowship and communication skills for fathers of young children.
“I’m at a place in my life where I have the means to give back,” Garcia said. “I can show kids that no matter where they come from, they can achieve great things. Seeing somebody who looks like them and comes from a similar place can make anything seem possible. Do we want to miss the next Einstein because kids don’t believe they belong?”
Garcia emphasizes the value of organizations like the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. “Through mentorship and activities, they guide young individuals in understanding what is expected of them and how to create and achieve their goals,” he said. “Diversity is so important. Innovation is fostered by bringing together people from different backgrounds, values and communication styles. In such an environment, we feel secure and empowered to be more innovative.
“It’s also fun to celebrate where you come from and what you love about who you are,” Garcia said.
Garcia’s recognition serves as a valuable reminder that success is not solely measured by personal accomplishments but also by the positive impact left on others. In the spirit of his grandfather’s wisdom, Garcia continues to inspire, embodying the belief that with dedication and kindness, one can truly find happiness in making a difference.
Sandia National Laboratories is a multimission laboratory operated by National Technology and Engineering Solutions of Sandia LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honeywell International Inc., for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. Sandia Labs has major research and development responsibilities in nuclear deterrence, global security, defense, energy technologies and economic competitiveness, with main facilities in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Livermore, California.
Sandia news media contact: Luke Frank, email@example.com, 505-377-5620