Shayna Begay is an aerospace engineer working at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is tasked with updating nuclear weapons systems to make sure they are safe and reliable in the event of a national security emergency. "Discovering You: Engineering Your World" is produced by NBC News Learn in partnership with Chevron, the American Society for Engineering Education and the National Science Foundation.
Discovering You - Engineering Your World – Shayna Begay
SHAYNA BEGAY (Aerospace Engineer):
We're here at the National Atomic Museum is what I like to call it and this is really kind of where my job begins as an engineer.
I am Shayna Begay and I am an aerospace engineer. I am Navajo Native American and I grew up in what we call the Four Corners of the United States. That's where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico all meet at one point.
I grew up on and off the reservation. If you look at a lot of our Native American reservations today, we're still living without running water, without electricity, and all these different types of resources that we tend to take for granted today. Having that as a background has kind of set and established me in such a way that it's given me a really good work ethic. I grew up learning how to be a traditional rug weaver. I learned how to do silversmithing and pottery work, and so these were things that, when I look at it today, those were really kind of the beginnings of me learning how to be an engineer because these were all tools that I needed to learn how to make something. Not just design it in my head, but then come out with a product at the end.
This case right here kind of helps really demonstrate the challenges we have here at the labs.
I've been at Sandia National Laboratories for about six years now. Every single day I come in, there's a new exciting problem that I'm asked to solve that doesn't always have an easy answer. Starting from World War II, the National Laboratories has been involved with the development and fielding of nuclear weapons.
While I studied in school to become a rocket scientist, I ended up becoming a rocket surgeon, because now it's my job to take apart these weapons and really just kind of monitor the health and make sure we can package it back up.
I work on the B61-12 Life Extension Program here at the laboratories. I am in charge of five different production teams that are responsible for building over 50 different components inside of the larger weapons system.
We'll take it and put it into different types of tests. We'll have different flight tests where we'll actually fly it around and drop it off of an aircraft. And then at the end of the day, our job is to assess and reassure that these weapons are safe, secure and reliable.
What we do impacts national security because this weapon system we have exists in our stockpile, and it's aging. So our job is to come in and to refurbish it so that it can continue to be a part of our stockpile, which is essential to our national security for protecting the United States of America. It's something that I take an incredible amount of pride in because I feel it’s something that I'm doing every day to contribute to the safety of my country.
Shayna Begay's work involves nuclear weapons, which are extremely powerful and dangerous. The development of such weapons is hotly debated. Read this TIME for Kids story for an example of a news article about nuclear power.
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