Sandra Begay

Sandra Begay

Principal Member of the Technical Staff
Sandia National Laboratories
Albuquerque, NM, United States
Sandra Begay
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Sandra Begay is a Principal Member of the Technical Staff at Sandia National Laboratories and is a former Regent (Trustee) for the University of New Mexico. Sandra leads Sandia’s technical efforts to assist Native American tribes with their renewable energy developments. Sandra received a Bachelor of Science - Civil Engineering degree from the University of New Mexico. She worked at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories before she earned a Master of Science - Structural Engineering degree from Stanford University. Sandra is recognized in a book profiling women engineers, “Changing Our World: True Stories of Women Engineers." Begay-Campbell is included in the chapter "Women in Power", which describes her effort to provide electricity through solar panels and other alternative energy solutions to hundreds of remote tribal members on the Navajo Reservation. Honored with awards for her work, Sandra is a recent recipient of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s Life-time Achievement Award; the University of New Mexico’s 2007 Zia Alumnus Award; the 2005 UNM School of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus Award and she received the Stanford University 2000 Multicultural Alumni of the Year Award. She was also selected as a recipient of the Governor's Award for Outstanding Women from the New Mexico Commission on the Status of Women.

  • I am willing to be interviewed by interested students via email.
Answers by Sandra Begay

Alyssa, it is both cool to use math but it can be difficult to use math if you don’t practice.  Think of math as a language to understand science and engineering.  For example, engineers designed car odometers which tell us how far (miles) we have driven; but it is Calculus and math formulas that are used to measure or estimate how an odometer measures the distance we’ve traveled.   Structural engineers use linear algebra to solve how buildings might move during an earthquake.  So, if you don’t know how to use the language of math or practice solving math problems, you can’t solve engineering problems like building movement from an earthquake.


All of the engineering disciplines you mentioned can support your renewable energy career pursuits. For example, I’m a civil and structural engineer by training but I now manage renewable energy work and education for potential customers. The more important factor will be your grade point average and progress shown in your transcripts. We all will have difficult semesters; however, you can show progress if you worked hard to improve your grades (should you need to).

The most important is to follow a passion which sounds like renewable energy and this also my passion. Good luck with your endeavors.

There are environmental focus areas in both civil and mechanical engineering. I would look through the course catalogs of the universities you might attend to find out about specific classes.

Both a civil or mechanical engineering program with an environmental engineer program would be a great academic endeavor. If your interests are in water quality, impacts to water, or in green building, then I?????????d suggest the civil engineering route. If you are interested in renewable energy, then I?????????d suggest the mechanical engineering route. An engineering degree opens opportunities to apply your technical knowledge to solve problems or build infrastructure that has minimal impacts to the environment. You might also look into an environmental science degree if you want to study the scientific aspects of the environment. My husband is a registered professional mechanical engineer but his degree is environmental engineering where he took courses in renewable energy (degree from California Polytechnic University ????????? San Luis Obispo). My degree is in civil engineering and most of my career was in facilities engineering and now I work in renewable energy development. I hope this gives some insight. --Sandra

The engineering curriculum is very hard. Many people struggle through most classes even the introduction classes. I wasn't ready for calculus so I took additional courses in beginning chemistry, trigonometry and algebra to re-assure myself and to hone my skills before diving into college level courses. I would keep struggling; no one should tell you it will be easy. Any goal worth achieving will take hard work and a lot of personal energy. After 20 years past completing my undergraduate degree and when I'm under pressure, I still have nightmares about struggling in college. So, please stick with your engineering major; I / we need you as a colleague.