Sandia Labs News Releases

Systems engineer a woman worth watching

Sandia Labs award winner exemplifies ‘complete professional’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Carrie O’Hara, a systems engineer at Sandia National Laboratories, has been selected as a 2020 Women Worth Watching award winner by Profiles in Diversity Journal. The award, in its 19th year, recognizes dynamic professional women who are using their talents and influence to change our workplaces and our world.

Carrie O'Hara woman worth watching

Sandia National Laboratories’ Carrie O’Hara teaches an international training course on the physical protection of nuclear materials and nuclear facilities before the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Bret Latter) Click on the thumbnail for a high-resolution image.

O’Hara has dedicated her career to making the world safer, according to her nomination. As a respected physical security expert and innovative instructional systems designer at Sandia, she collaborates with numerous federal agencies to develop and lead training programs for nuclear security professionals in the U.S. and across the globe.

Nominees for the award are judged on contributions and achievements in three of five categories: leadership, executive responsibility, professional achievement, innovation and mentorship.

Before becoming a systems engineer at Sandia, O’Hara served as the labs’ security systems and technology training project lead for the U.S. Navy Strategic Weapons Facilities Physical Security Engineering programs for both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. She developed and led training for all Navy and Marine security forces. During this time, O’Hara earned her master’s degree in organizational learning and instructional technology at the University of New Mexico, which she used to develop innovative technology-based simulation and gaming courses.

“This award was a surprise to me, but I’m honored,” O’Hara said. “I love working for Sandia Labs. I feel like my work here is important, and I appreciate the opportunities I’ve been given. We have a great community of people at Sandia.”

O’Hara attributes her success in part to having the confidence to solve problems in difficult situations.

“Leadership comes from having confidence,” she said. “We all will encounter that 1% of people in our lives that is not accepting of us. It happens to everyone, but it’s not an excuse not to succeed.”

From 1993-2001, O’Hara served in the U.S. Air Force as a Combat Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape instructor, training air crew and special forces on the physical and psychological stresses of survival and teaching skills needed to stay alive if they were separated from their units or aircraft.

“My advice to young women is to never take ‘no’ for an answer and never let someone else hold you back,” O’Hara added. “Put in the work and get the training you need to pursue your goals. Your success is a direct result of your efforts. It won’t be easy, but ‘no’ is for other people, not you.”

Esther Hernandez, chief diversity officer at Sandia National Laboratories, said O’Hara is a great example of success through dedication and hard work. “Her focus and commitment throughout her career definitely make Carrie a woman worth watching,” Hernandez added.

Profiles in Diversity Journal is a quarterly magazine dedicated to promoting and advancing diversity and inclusion and Women Worth Watching in the corporate, government, nonprofit, higher education and military sectors.

“Carrie O’Hara is an outstanding candidate for Women Worth Watching,” said James Rector, Profiles in Diversity Journal publisher and CEO. “Responsibilities, job performance, qualifications and experience are the true measure of a woman worth watching, and Carrie exemplifies the complete professional.”

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,, 505-844-2020