ROCK, AZ - Growing up in a single-parent household in a 500-square-feet
substandard house with very little money, Stanley Atcitty remembers
how he and his siblings made their bikes and toys from parts they
found at a local junkyard.
Some of those parts the Shiprock, N.M.-native would grab from
the dumpster included used tires and used mechanical systems.
From them and the end of it all, he created a "really nice product."
Little did he know, however, from those early childhood years
that his innate ability to create stuff from scratch would eventually
lead him to becoming the first Native American student to earn a
Philosophy of Doctor in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech
and be employed with Sandia National Laboratories for the last 18
"I already knew I liked to build parts when I was young, and
I had no idea I was going to pursue engineering at that point,"
Atcitty said to the attendees of a panel session during the 2013
SACNAS National Conference in San Antonio, held on Oct. 3-6.
Atcitty was one of several Native American scientists invited
by SACNAS, a society dedicated to advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and
Native Americans in science, to participate in the annual event.
Sitting alongside Atcitty were Monica Yellowhair (a postdoctoral
research associate at the University of Arizona), Matthew Anderson
(a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota), and Julius
Yellowhair (a senior technical staff member at Sandia National Laboratories),
who moderated the panel.
They told of their career development in a session titled, "Native
American Researchers: From the Rez to World-Class Research."
This session showcased some of the nation's most accomplished
Native American researchers in engineering, environmental sciences
and chemistry, and ended with Yellowhair asking the panelists to
tell of their journey from the "rez" to doing world-class research.
In the session, Atcitty also highlighted how he briefly worked
in the construction industry to help bring finances to his family's
Working as a laborer in construction was a major turning point,
when he had an "epiphany" and asked, himself, "Is this what I'm
going to be doing for the rest of my life? Is this it?"
He thought, "No. It was a resounding, No."
From there, Atcitty began academic life at San Juan College
in Farmington, where he became fascinated with math and science
Naturally, he started exploring career options with those fields
and decided on engineering.
Because San Juan College didn't have an engineering program,
he transferred to New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
At NMSU, where he enrolled in engineering, he initially thought
he couldn't achieve, considering that East Indian and Asian nerds
stereotypically dominate the field.
"There's no way I can compete with these guys," Atcitty thought.
It also didn't help that his thought process of coming from
the reservation where relatives told him he couldn't be anything
lowered his confidence, which he turned resulted in "mediocre grades."
But the turning point, Atcitty said, was the mentor support
he received from Dr.
Jamie Ramirez-Angulo, an electronics professor, and an Indian
student who asked him several times for tutoring help.
From that point on, Atcitty, who had at this point in time developed
a fascination with power electronics from Ramirez-Angulo, became
"My GPA started exceeding 3.5," he added.
"That confidence is so key," he told attendees. "That baggage,
you have to get rid of. You got to get confidence in you."
Following graduation from NMSU, where he also got a master's
degree, he pondered about his next step of "going all the way."
He eventually applied to Virginia Tech, an institution known
for its top-notch electronics program, and received a doctoral degree
in electronics and computers.
For the last 18 years, Atcitty has worked in power electronics
at Sandia National Laboratories.
He is a principal technical staff member in the Energy Storage
Technology and Systems Department, with over 300 publications and
three patents for inventions in power electronics, specifically
He currently has three more patents pending.
Because of his patents, which are funded by the Department of
Energy, he was awarded an R&D100 Award.
To be bestowed an R&D100 award is considered "The Oscars
of Invention," according to the Chicago Tribune.
And according to the editors of R&D Magazine, an R&D
Award "provides a mark of excellence known to industry, government
and academia as proof that the product is one of the most innovative
ideas of the year."
Atcitty has also been featured in a children's book on Energy
Basics and also recently published his first book in June, titled,
"Power Electronics for Renewable and Distributed Energy Systems:
A sourcebook of topologies, control and integration."
In July 2012, U.S. President Barak Obama named the energy storage
researcher a winner of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists
The award is given to outstanding scientists and engineers,
who are very early in their independent research careers.
Presently, Atcitty also works in a mentorship capacity mentoring
students and also works on tribal energy programs in various Navajo
communities and Monti Bay, Yakatat, Alaska.
For advice to students, Atcitty encourages students to persevere,
no matter what.
"My advice is to stick with it and look at this way: The time
it takes to complete your higher education compared to the average
lifespan is relatively short.
The hours of studying for an exam or spent on homework during
your years of school provide a lifetime of benefits.
I am certainly living it today."
Atcitty is Tl'aaschí (Red Streaking People
Clan) born for Tl'izilani (Manygoats Clan). His maternal grandfather
is Tódch'ii'nii (Bitter Water People Clan) and paternal
father clan is Hash'kaa hadzoh (Yucca Fruit-Strung-Out-In-A-Line