In many ways, Sandra Begay-Campbell is the perfect role model: an intelligent, courageous, accomplished woman, who has made sure she gives back to her native community. Ms. Begay-Campbell was born in Gallup, New Mexico to the Navajo Zuni clan in 1962. As she grew up, she became interested in architecture, although, as she claims, she was "not artistic." Instead, she used her math skills and interest in building structures toward a degree in civil engineering.
“I grew up only a few hours drive from Albuquerque and it was an exciting day when one of my grandmothers received electricity for the first time. We made a special visit that night, just to see her shiny new porch light. This basic need for infrastructure and to solve community problems sparked my interest in engineering," she said at a recent presentation.
One of her first projects was to analyze the buildings in California following a huge earthquake. Ms. Begay-Campbell was excited to work with other engineers and architects to make buildings stronger. At the same time, her early training as a Native American, impressed her with the belief that nature is a stronger force than human technology.
"My cultural heritage has taught me that engineers ultimately cannot control Mother Nature and we have to accept the consequences from natural phenomena," she says.
A few years later, Ms. Begay-Campbell received a Master's Degree in Structural Engineering from Stanford University, and returned to New Mexico to work for Sandia National Laboratories on photovoltaics, which is the technology that allows us to harness solar power. She has spent the last decade bringing solar-powered electricity to remote tribal members on the Navajo reservation.
In a recent book, Changing Our World: True Stories of Women Engineers, she is quoted as saying, "I get to work with my own native people. I give them a new way to think about electricity. It's very nurturing."
Sandra Begay-Campbell has received many honors and positions of responsibility. She is currently on the Board of Regents at the University of New Mexico, and has been an Executive Director of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, a national non-profit organization that provides educational, professional, and leadership opportunities for Native Americans. She has also received the UNM School of Engineering Distinguished Engineering Alumnae Award, and the Governor's Award for Outstanding Women.
Ms. Begay-Campbell also takes the time to mentor other women, minority students, and teens who are interested in engineering. Currently, she has three cousins who are studying to be engineers. She would like more girls to learn about engineering by visiting women who are working in the field.
Ms. Begay-Campbell's role models are her parents. "As a tribal leader, my father showed me that I needed to use my skills to assist other American Indians. Before my mother's death, she guided me as a working woman and mother."
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