In honor of Native American Heritage Month, West Hub Science Writer Kimberly Mann Bruch had a chance to speak with Stan Atcitty, a Senior Scientist at Sandia National Laboratories’ Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Grid Modernization Center and a member of the Navajo Nation, who has been working at the Labs for nearly 30 years.
Atcitty leads the power electronics subprogram as part of the DOE Energy Storage Program and has gained international recognition for its state-of-the-art research and development under his leadership. Six of his projects have won the prestigious R&D 100 award and one Gold Green Energy award from the Research & Development magazine.
Atcitty has over 70 publications and holds four patents and another three pending. In 2007, he received the American Indian Science and Engineering Society Technical Excellence Award for his American Indian community involvement and technical achievement. He was featured in a middle school level children’s book titled “Energy Basics – Energized!” published by Sally Ride Science in 2012. In 2013, he co-authored a book titled Power Electronics for Renewable and Distributed Energy Systems.
In addition, President Barack Obama presented Atcitty with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers on July 31, 2012. This is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government for outstanding scientists and engineers who show exceptional leadership at the frontiers of scientific knowledge during the twenty-first century.
Bruch: Can you tell me about your academic path to Sandia?
Atcitty: I received my undergraduate and master’s degrees from New Mexico State University in the 1990s. I then went on to Virginia Tech University and became the first male Native American to receive a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering there. From there, I started working at Sandia, where I have been ever since.
Bruch: What is your current focus at the Labs?
Atcitty: My research focus for the past few years has been on alternative energy and specifically the power electronics necessary for integrating energy storage and distributed generation with the electric utility grid. With the support of the DOE Energy Storage Program, I recently started a tribal energy storage program that provides technical assistance on energy storage deployment on tribal lands. In addition, through the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Minority Serving Institute Partnership Program, I’m working with Tribal Colleges and Universities to provide a pathway from tribal communities to the national labs by providing internship opportunities and mentoring.
Bruch: If you had advice to give the future generations of Native students, what would that be?
Atcitty: It’s never too late! In addition to working with traditional-aged students, it is important for adults, seniors, and elders to have access to higher education. For example, one of the MSIPP consortium programs led by Turtle Mountain Community College, focused on cybersecurity research, is inviting seniors and elders to attend lectures and give them an idea of what the concept is all about. Elders are provided an opportunity to provide their input as it’s important for everyone to not only have a chance to provide feedback on our curriculum but also provide them with a way to connect with the younger generation.