LANL and Highlands Partnership Aims to Increase Computer Science Grads

Mariano Ulibarri

Mariano Ulibarri

Las Vegas, N.M. – A new partnership between Highlands University and Los Alamos National Laboratory aims to increase computer science graduates at the university that will fill professional positions at the laboratory.

“Los Alamos National Laboratory will hire approximately 2,000 new employees by 2020, with a significant number in the computer science profession,” said Carole Rutter, deputy director of LANL’s Community Partnership Office. “We want as many of these future hires as possible to come from Northern New Mexico, which is why we are partnering with Highlands on this initiative.”

LANL endowed a new position at Highlands based in the university’s Achieving in Research Math and Science (ARMAS) Center. Mariano Ulibarri was hired for responsibilities ranging from mentoring computer science students at Highlands early in their academic career to teaching workshops for K-12 youth to generate early interest in the discipline.

Ulibarri, 35, is a national leader in the maker space movement, with the White House inviting him to contribute to the Nation of Makers meeting in August 2016. Ulibarri created the popular Parachute Factory maker space in Las Vegas in 2012, making it the first in the state.

A maker space is a do-it-yourself environment that brings people together to create, tinker and repair items using open-source computer hardware and software, as well as other technology tools like 3-D printers.

Rutten said Ulibarri is impressive in both his expertise and passion for reaching out to young people to get them excited about careers in computer science and other science disciplines.

“Mariano is going to make a significant impact upon our youth in Northern New Mexico,” Rutten said.

Ulibarri’s position in ARMAS is called LANL coordinator of student support in computer science and related fields.

“Carole Rutten worked closely with Highlands University President Sam Minner to develop this creative partnership,” said Elizabeth Ratzlaff, ARMAS director.

“New Mexico is a great state for careers in technology,” said Ulibarri, a fourth-generation Las Vegas native who earned his M.A. in media arts and computer science from Highlands in 2013. “It’s rewarding to come to work knowing that I’m helping our Highlands students find ways to achieve professional success in high-paying computer science jobs right here in our state.”

Ulibarri said community outreach is a significant part of his position including enrolling more Las Vegas area high school students in dual-enrollment introductory computer science classes at Highlands, where they earn both high school and college credit. He’ll work in collaboration with computer science professor Gil Gallegos on this initiative.

“I’ll also be working with Las Vegas businesses to help develop computer science internships for our Highlands students,” Ulibarri said.

He said his new position at Highlands builds upon the success the Parachute Factory has with connecting hundreds of youth in Las Vegas to technology, building enthusiasm for science careers. Programming at Parachute Factory will continue.

“I always love seeing the spark of excitement on the faces of young people trying their hand at complex technology projects and discovering they are good at it. It builds confidence that is transferable to all areas of their life,” said Ulibarri, who has taught computer science in K-12 and college settings.

In 2014, the Harvard School of Education chose Ulibarri to help catalyze the national maker space movement.

Ratzlaff said she is thrilled to be working with Ulibarri.

“Mariano’s work has demonstrated his ability to engage local youth in innovative and enriching technology education,” Ratzlaff said. “His position aligns with Highlands’ strategic plan to enhance mutually-beneficial community partnerships.”

Ulibarri said children are often underestimated when it comes to computer literacy.

“They are capable of so much, but haven’t had the opportunities to further their education in computer science. With the combined resources of LANL and Highlands, we will change that,” Ulibarri said.

He’s developing local K-12 programming that includes an after-school computer science program housed at Highlands, workshops delivered at schools, summer computer science camps, and more.

“We want our dedicated computer classroom and lab at Highlands for youth to be a space where they develop computer science knowledge and skills from an early age. The idea is that they will become our future computer science students at Highlands and eventually LANL employees,” Ulibarri said.