Growing up in Del Rio, Texas, a small town located on the U.S.-Mexico border, Juan Lafuente attended a high school that was short on resources but rich in caring, dedicated teachers — resulting in strong math and science programs.
Lafuente’s physics teacher, Mr. Francisco, was a powerful proponent of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and pushed his students to excel in such subjects. Seeing a similar passion in Lafuente, Mr. Francisco helped him apply and earn acceptance to summer engineering enrichment programs at the University of Texas and Texas A&M University.
The encouragement paid off as Lafuente later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in systems engineering and embarked on successful military and civilian careers with the Department of the Navy, including his current role as head of the Nuclear Command Control and Communications Messaging and Interior Communications Branch at Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific.
Lafuente carries on Mr. Francisco’s legacy through his own efforts to mentor students interested in STEM careers — a mission that recently earned him the Department of Defense (DoD) STEM Advocate of the Quarter award for the third quarter of fiscal year 2023.
“One of the most rewarding aspects about working with students in STEM is helping them develop their abilities to think logically and clearly, while employing a scientific method, to solve problems,” said Lafuente. “I’m honored and humbled to receive this award for doing something I truly love.”
“We congratulate Mr. Lafuente for this impressive achievement,” said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Kurt Rothenhaus, who also serves as the Naval STEM Executive. “It is truly one of the most prestigious honors that can be bestowed on STEM advocates.
“Winning the DoD STEM Advocate of the Quarter award is a testament to Mr. Lafuente’s passion and motivation, and his efforts have significantly enhanced NIWC Pacific’s STEM outreach, education and visibility.”
The DoD STEM Advocate of the Quarter award is one of several prestigious accolades the Office of the Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Science and Technology — located within the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering — presents to individuals and teams within the DoD civilian workforce in the fields of research and development, technology transfer and transition, and STEM advocacy.
According to Lafuente’s award citation, multiple factors resulted in his win, including:
• Serving as an active member of the NIWC Pacific Math Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) STEM Industry Advisory Board — This board works with industry partners to provide technical guidance and direction in developing programs to prepare students for STEM-related careers.
• Participating in recruiting events for the Society of Hispanic Engineers National Convention Career Fair — These are national recruiting events for STEM and engineering disciplines and showcase civilian career opportunities at Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Air Systems Command and Naval Information Warfare Systems Command.
• Providing support, coaching and mentorship during the San Diego City College STEM Summer Arduino Academy — The academy enables students to work with industry mentors to plan, design and perform projects involving Arduino, an open-source, electronic prototyping platform.
“Being a mentor is one of the most satisfying things you can do, professionally and personally,” said Lafuente. “If you’re interested in doing so, get engaged now, at any level. Most students are eager and hungry to learn. Many can be scared or tentative about math and science, but with the proper engagement at their level they quickly open up.”
Learn more about various DoD STEM awards at https://dodstem.us/meet/innovators/.
Warren Duffie Jr. is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications.
|ARLINGTON, VA, US
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