The Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recognized Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) data scientist and mathematician Romie Morales Rosado with their 2022 STEM Professional of the Year Award.
Morales spearheaded a collaborative effort between the former Computing & Analytics Division and the Office of STEM Education to create the Bridging Opportunities for Leadership Training in STEM (BOLTS) program and is the current co-chair of PNNL’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. She also led PNNL’s Latinx affinity group for two years, is a member of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), and served on the Communities in Schools of Benton-Franklin Board of Directors.
“STEM outreach is very much a team effort,” said Morales. “I’m thrilled with the acknowledgement of the connections and community we are building.”
Morales’s STEM efforts began long before formally establishing the highly impactful BOLTS program. A native Puerto Rican, Morales said her engagement started immediately when she arrived in the Tri-Cities in 2016. “I craved to know people that might share a similar cultural background to have a sense of community and belonging in addition to what I felt with my scientific colleagues at PNNL.”
Morales quickly saw opportunities to establish or deepen a trusting relationship between PNNL and local communities that weren’t aware of the breadth of opportunities at the lab and couldn’t yet see themselves participating in them. Over time, her visibility and engagement helped build a team of passionate people across both communities and led to an orchestrated effort to create the BOLTS mentorship program to have a direct impact on the Tri-Cities community.
“BOLTS students have shared with us that the program has helped them gain confidence, experience, and increased interest in STEM careers,” said PNNL Science & Engineering Education Consultant Liz Stephens. “This is just one example of the impact Romie has had through her STEM efforts.”
BOLTS identifies capable students from underserved schools in the Tri-Cities area and helps guide them into STEM careers they may not have otherwise considered. Beginning in 11th grade, the students are paired with a mentor at PNNL who guides them through the process of securing a summer internship at the lab. The mentor-mentee relationship continues in the following years as students apply for and begin college then seek to secure additional internships at various national laboratories, including PNNL.
“The program consistently finds students who succeed as soon as they know the opportunities at the lab exist and how much we care,” said Morales. “Before they were taking care of siblings, working extra shifts, and translating for their parents in addition to going to school. After engaging with PNNL, their lives open up in a new way. We’ve put them in a position to educate their parents and create trust with them, then find additional opportunities to shine.”
Morales also feels passionate about empowering colleagues and community members to share their stories as they champion STEM and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion outreach. “We are an organization of people, so equipping other staff from underrepresented backgrounds is as important as the science we put forward. Everyone has an instrument. Everyone can use it to make music.”
The Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce works to connect, empower, and celebrate the Latino community in the Tri-Cities and beyond. Morales completed an internship at Princeton and earned a PhD in applied mathematics from Arizona State University. She is the chamber’s first ever Latina STEM Professional of the Year.
Published: January 18, 2023