Research Fuels Engineering Students

Research Fuels Engineering Students

Engineering Technologies professor Miguel Maestas and student Sara Lanctot

For as long as Engineering Technologies professor Miguel Maestas can remember, the discipline of research — the systematic and hands on exploration and application of facts — has served as inspiration for his engineering mind. Maestas tries to instill this same fascination in his students, developing curriculum that gets students involved in hands-on, real-world research projects.

“I don’t just want them to learn the subject area,” Maestas said. “I want them to be able to bounce off ideas and develop practical designs with their engineering skills.”

Maestas sees one of the best ways to provide opportunities to his students is through research internships. He encourages all of his students to develop résumés and submit applications. Four of his students worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory this past summer: Matthew Vigil, Aliyah Lucero, Adriana Garcia and Chason Simpson. Three of those students transferred to New Mexico Tech this fall.

Maestas also fosters the development of soft skills that are essential for employment: He works with students to develop communication competence, encourages team building and emphasizes learning from peers. Engineering Technologies students can earn a certificate and/or an associate degree. “Students can easily transfer to a university, but some find career opportunities such as entry-level positions at Los Alamos National Labs,” he said. “In those jobs, people can start earning about $60,000 and work their way up to higher positions.”

“I love it,” said current student Sara Lanctot, 29, who landed a summer research internship at the University of New Mexico through the Summer Community College Opportunity for Research Experience as part of the New Mexico Alliance for Minority Participation program, based at New Mexico State University. “Miguel Maestas and others at the college have been so supportive,” she added.

Lanctot is continuing that research this fall through SFCC’s paid internship program PILAS (Programa de Internos, Los Alamos), made possible through support from Los Alamos National Security, LLC, Los Alamos National Laboratory, SFCC and Santa Fe Community College Foundation.

A Mexico native and U.S. resident, Lanctot earned two bachelor’s degrees in business (international and administration). She said, “I worked in banking for five years and I knew that wasn’t where my passion is. My dream was always to work in the aerospace industry. My teachers and family always pushed me to study something they thought was practical, like business. It was time to really go for my dreams by studying engineering at SFCC.”

When she’s not working in space research, she’s discovered a whole new world at the cellular level. Her project at UNM is to pattern cells with precise location and distance on silicon chips to study cell-to-cell communication. This project incorporates aspects of semiconductor processing methods, polymer science and cell biology.

“Sara has made key contributions to this work and we expect that she will be listed as a contributing author when we publish this work in a scientific journal,” said UNM’s principal investigator for the project, Nick Carroll, Ph.D. “This is my first experience working with an SFCC student. It is clear there is a rich STEM talent pool at SFCC, and I look forward to engaging with these students in the near future.”

In addition to Lanctot’s main research project, she’s worked with a 3-D printer at UNM and designed a special holding tray to store cells without cross-contamination. Whether she decides to pursue her aerospace dreams or go down another engineering path, it’s clear the sky’s the limit.

Professional Filmmaker/Student Wins Regional Emmy

Kaela Waldstein took home a Rocky Mountain Southwest Regional Emmy Award on Sept. 22 in the category of Special Event Coverage Live or Edited for her short film, “International Folk Art Market.” Milton Riess, head of the SFCC Film Department, said, “An Emmy is the greatest honor awarded in television. Kaela Waldstein deserves this recognition. She’s a stand-out student. I’m glad to see a woman get this recognition, since women do not always get acknowledgment in the male-dominated profession. It’s all about the quality of the work and that’s what it should be, not the gender.”

A self-taught filmmaker with her own production company, Mountain Mover Media, Waldstein came to SFCC to fill in the gaps of her knowledge and connect with the local film community. She said, “I love the film program. I’m being pushed further outside my comfort zone, and am experimenting with equipment and techniques I hadn’t considered before.”

The 35-year-old filmmaker moved to Santa Fe from San Francisco about a year and a half ago. Studying at the college has connected her to more people with similar goals and aspirations. “The faculty is of a high caliber and having access to all the equipment in the Film Cage is a super valuable resource all on its own,” she said. Another of her short films, “Zozobra: The Original Burning Man,” also received a nomination in the same category. To see her award-winning film and other work samples visit