School of Engineering Annual Awards

Department of Nuclear Engineering

photo of Phoenix Baldez

Phoenix Baldez
Outstanding Graduate Student
Nuclear Engineering

Phoenix Baldez, from Albuquerque, decided to pursue nuclear engineering his junior year of high school. “I was given a writing prompt of arguing both sides of a controversial topic and I chose nuclear weapons, and from there on out, I held an intense interest in all aspects of nuclear science. Finding out that UNM had a nuclear reactor on campus and the ability to do science in partnership with the national labs solidified my choice of nuclear engineering at UNM.”

During his years at UNM, he worked with the late Kenya Moore for his first internship the summer of his sophomore year, where they looked at radioactive soil contamination near abandoned uranium mines in northern New Mexico. He then spent the next two years working at Pacific Northwest National Labs developing next generation neutron detectors. For his senior year, he worked in Adam Hecht’s radiation detection lab and got his master’s degree on a gamma ray imaging project. Directly after, he transitioned to research of fission fragment spectroscopy for his Ph.D.

Phoenix has been involved in several organizations as a student. Since he was a sophomore, he has been involved in the both the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management (INMM) and the American Nuclear Society (ANS). In graduate school, he was president of INMM, and an active executive committee member of ANS. Through this, he started an effort to partner with larger engineering student organizations such as the Society of Women Engineers, the Hispanic Engineering and Science Organization and many others. With their help, INMM and ANS have been able to put on more events, reaching larger numbers of people than ever before and educating people on nuclear science who would not have been aware of it otherwise. INMM hosts a membership and executive committee that extends well outside the School of Engineering. “Since the effects of nuclear science do not stop in the lab, we should work to include a diverse set of backgrounds and opinions on the matters we discuss,” Phoenix said.

Since he has been at UNM for a decade, Phoenix says he has many fond memories, including my senior design class, INMM/ANS national conferences, student organization meetings, all those who have been in Dr. Hecht’s research group and “the amazing faculty and staff of the Department of Nuclear Engineering!”

In his spare time, Phoenix enjoys knitting, watching “Drag Race,” trying new craft beer, and spending quality time with his girlfriend, Maya.

He eventually would like to pursue a career that includes research into nuclear data, radiation detector development as well as international safeguards and security.

photo of Lauren Crabtree

Lauren Crabtree
Outstanding Senior
Nuclear Engineering

Lauren Crabtree grew up like many other girls, knowing that she could be anything she wanted to be, whether that was a doctor, a ballerina or an astronaut. But her career ambitions became a little more focused in her sophomore chemistry class in high school when she first learned about nuclear reactors and radioactive decay.

Always good in math and science, the Albuquerque native soon became fascinated with nuclear engineering.

“I eventually did some more research, learned about nuclear engineering and New Mexico's nuclear history, and it seemed like the perfect fit for me for a profession,” she said. “I felt that choosing engineering would allow me to best apply my talents and skills to improve our world.”

While a student at UNM, Lauren has kept busy honing her professional and leadership skills. In the summer of 2018, she had an internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory for chemistry, coal industry byproducts research, and nuclear forensics. In the 2018-19 school year, she was a research assistant in the Department of Nuclear Engineering’s thermal-hydraulics lab with Amir Ali, and in the summer of 2019, she had an internship at Los Alamos for nuclear nonproliferation and safeguards research. Additionally, this school year, she was a research assistant for Adam Hecht in the nuclear radiation detection lab.

Lauren has served in the American Nuclear Society (ANS) as president and is now a member-at-large. She also was involved with the International Nuclear Materials Management, the Society of Women Engineers, oSTEM, and Tau Beta Pi. She also helped organize the new nuclear engineering summer camp for high school students that had been planned for this summer and is co-chair of the ANS Student Conference Bid Committee.

She said her favorite memories during her time as a student were participating in various student activities, especially attending the American Nuclear Society Student Conference in Richmond, Va.

Her hobbies include scrapbooking, planning in her day planner, coloring, doing creative makeup looks, and hanging out with her friends. She also has a large collection of stickers and washi tape (Japanese decorative tape) that she enjoys cultivating. She also likes to help her father restore classic Ford Mustangs.

In the fall, she is planning to pursue her Ph.D. in nuclear engineering at UNM, researching nuclear security and nonproliferation in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories.

photo of Mekiel R. Olguin

Mekiel R. Olguin
Outstanding Junior
Nuclear Engineering


Christian Arguello
Outstanding Sophomore
Nuclear Engineering

Christian Arguello, an Albuquerque native, says he pursued engineering because he was fascinated by math and science and felt that he wanted to “use my God-given passions to help make the world a better place.”

He has been involved with the UNM American Nuclear Society as an executive board member. In addition to this, he said his favorite memory has been hanging out with friends for lunch in between classes.

As hobbies, he enjoys playing golf, fishing, hunting, being outdoors and playing guitar.

Christian would like to pursue a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering and eventually work at a national lab.