Jon Mark Beilue: Hard Work and Optimistic Outlook

 

Dec. 12, 2019

Hard Work and Optimistic Outlook

Beierschmitt, COO at Los Alamos, to deliver graduation address

By JON MARK BEILUE

At the time, Kelly Beierschmitt called it one of the saddest days of his life. But in taking the wide-angle view, it may have turned out to be one of his best.

He was on track to graduate from West Texas State University in four years. In 1985, he thought he only needed “two easy semesters” to graduate. But he was changing his major from chemistry to a new degree that was offered – engineering mathematics.

That would set him up better for graduate school where his goal was to earn his doctorate. But it also would require some additional leveling classes. And when Beierschmitt saw how many – 36 hours in some tough courses – that was a figurative punch in the stomach.

“That was one of about three or four times I shed some tears as a grown man,” he said. “But I did it anyway.” Dr. Kelly Beierschmitt

Beierschmitt would graduate one year later than expected in 1987 with one of the first degrees in engineering mathematics. For one of the few times since then, he returns to the WT campus on Dec. 14 – this time as Dr. Kelly Beierschmitt, the deputy director of operations at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico as he will deliver the commencement address at the University’s fall semester graduation.

“I tell you this, WT did a lot to prepare me for graduate school,” he said. “If I wasn’t as prepared as I was, I would not go to a Division I engineering program and get my Ph.D in five years.”

All of that was 30 years ago. Since then, Beierschmitt’s career has taken him to the Holy Grail of the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories. His career started at nearby Pantex, where he worked as a nuclear explosives engineer and developed some of the earliest safety analysis reports.

He went on to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and worked for 13 years as an associate lab director before moving to the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls.

For the last 18 months, Beierschmitt has been the chief operating officer for the mammoth Los Alamos National Laboratory near Santa Fe. His charge is over programs, business systems, and facilities for a lab that has 12,000 employees and a $3 billion budget.

The primary mission at Los Alamos is to certify and maintain the nuclear deterrent. But many other functions surround that, including instrumentation in space. Recently, Beierschmitt watched a team of scientists reestablish communication with the Mars Rover through the jet propulsion lab.

“Absolutely fascinating,” he said.

At Los Alamos, there’s also a biological division that studies DNA, environmental management, and operation of super computers in material science.

“No two days are ever alike in terms of what I’ve been able to see and do and the people I work with,” Beierschmitt said. “The world is better off than we think it is. Not a single one of the labs I’ve worked at have people showed up just to earn a paycheck.

“They are passionate about the mission and want to make history in what they do every day. So when you surround yourself with people like that, it humbles a person. I’ve been able to work with some of the hardest-working most brilliant people on the planet for almost 35 years. That keeps me fresh and young.”

Dr. Kelly Beierschmitt

*Photo: While at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Beierschmitt, then associate director for neutron sciences, briefs Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (far right) and State Sen. Yen Yager. Beierschmitt, who will give the commencement address at WT on Dec. 14, was one of the University's first graduates in engineering mathematics. 

Full-time at Pantex, full-time at WT

To think at one time Beierschmitt, who was born at the old Northwest Texas Hospital on Sixth Street in Amarillo, grew up on a ranch 2 ½ miles east of Claude. One of his dad’s jobs was a sight technician at Pantex.

Beierschmitt spent some of his high school days in rodeo in bareback and roping. But he was influenced by a grandfather, Norman King, who taught physics at Amarillo College. He taught him how to use an old slide rule and Bierschmitt began subscribing to publications like Popular Mechanics and Scientific American.

“I dreamed of designing aircraft and spacecraft,” he said. “I was always a little bit of a tech geek.”

After graduating from Claude in 1982, Beierschmitt spent his first two years at Texas Tech studying chemical engineering. The summer after his sophomore year, he took an organic chemistry and math class at WT. He also had a job offer for a full-time position at Pantex as a gas analysis technician.

“Since I was paying my own way through college,” he said, “it sounded good to me.”

Beierschmitt transferred to WT, so he could work at Pantex. A typical day would be the graveyard shift at Pantex, driving to Canyon at 7 a.m. to go to classes in the morning and labs that afternoon, home at 3 p.m. to eat, run errands, complete homework, and sleep and do it all over again at 11 p.m.

“But I was young and used to hard work,” he said. “Growing up on a ranch, that’s the way it was.”

Beierschmitt, who got his doctorate in Industrial Engineering from Tech, still recalls the calculus classes from Bill Ambrose, and the battle scars that left.

“It taught me to think, to do research, and it taught me to study,” he said. “After surviving classes with Dr. Ambrose, nothing ever felt as tough to me.”

What has guided Beierschmitt through college and a career – and what he likely will share with graduates at commencement – is a Texas Panhandle work ethic and an unshakable optimism.

“That drives my wife nuts,” he said. “I’m always a happy optimistic person and it makes her crazy that when things are going bad I can still be optimistic. But I wake up happy, go to bed happy and sleep good at night.

“But I tell her and others, it’s a personal choice. Being a happy optimistic person, having the right attitude, it’s up to you. I choose to be that person even if everything is not going right. It has made me much more efficient in doing my job.”

Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at jbeilue@wtamu.edu.

—WTAMU—