Fri Feb 28th, 2020
The Southern Ute Drum
Mike Duran is a teacher, researcher and team leader recognized for his work at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in Northern New Mexico. He is acknowledged for his outstanding contributions to science and technology, particularly in the field of radiation.
Duran graduated from Ignacio High School and went on to be the first Native American student to receive his Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo. He then moved on to completing his Master’s Degree at Colorado State University in Health Physics and is now certified by the American Board of Health Physics.
As Duran began his teaching career, he reflected on his grandparents and parent’s inspiring careers in the education field. A past colleague of his encouraged him to take over two of his teaching classes at the Northern New Mexico College. The classes included the recruitment of more students to consider the program and sharing his personal experiences of working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Duran continues to teach in the evenings at the college even today. “Having the opportunity to help change people’s lives is why I do this — preparing them for their occupational career goals and guiding them to operate in a high-level workplace.”
His passion for the sciences can be pinpointed back to when he attended the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s summer program at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo. “I have been very fortunate—not only do I receive support from my tribe but my family’s background in education has motivated me to continue researching and teaching,” Duran stated.
Upon graduation, Mike became a Research Assistant at the LANL where he joined the Radiation Protection group. Moving his way up the chain, he is now the Radiation Protection Manager for the Radiological Control Technicians (RTCs). This means he plays a vital role in ensuring that the laboratory, environment and general public are all safe from potential radiation hazards.
In addition to the hard work he does at the lab, he is responsible for increasing and inspiring more local graduates to work at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. For the past 25 years, Duran has been collaborating and building the Northern New Mexico College’s RTSc associate program for radiation protection. The program has not only increased the number of students in the field, but has also built a diverse team that contributes to LANL’s success.
“The lab is a great working environment, my coworkers are excited and passionate about their work,” Duran explained. “It is also a great opportunity for students to learn from mentorships and it is a privilege to see them succeed.”
According to the same program that Duran attended in his youth, the LANL is one of the top 50 STEM Workplaces for Native Professionals. Duran constantly supports the lab’s mission to “Solve national security challenges through scientific excellence.”
They are also known to specifically recruit Native Americans for any position as well as retain them and place them in management positions.
Duran expressed his support for all youth, especially Native youth to follow their passions and pursue higher education. “Who would’ve imagined I would be here today? I can only say that the work I do is so rewarding not just for me, but for the students I teach too,” Duran said. “There are always new things to learn about.”
Through the Southern Ute Education Department, enrolled tribal members can receive full time scholarships covering the cost of tuition and provide a living stipend. The application is accessible online or can be picked up at the Southern Ute Education Department. The deadline for completed full-time applications is in July each year.
Duran also is encouraging anyone interested in the LANL to reach out to him or his family for educational tours of the labs or for general questions.