Congratulations, 2009 New Mexico Tech Graduates!
By Kathleen Hedges and Thomas Guengerich
Updated May 20, 2009.
Right: Happy graduates anticipate receiving their diplomas.
SOCORRO – New Mexico Tech conferred degrees on more than 280 graduates during commencement ceremony Saturday, May 16, on the campus in Socorro, including graduates who finished in August 2008 and December 2008.
The Brown Award, New Mexico Tech's highest award to an undergraduate, went to Peter Valdez (left), who graduated with a bachelor's degree in Chemical Engineering, with highest honors.
Valdez has been an intern for Sandia National Laboratories, a tutor and peer facilitator for freshmen in Chemical Engineering; host of a regional conference of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; a volunteer at the Advising Resource Center and Puerto Seguro homeless shelter in Socorro; and an active volunteer in many other community and church activities.
In his junior design class at Tech, he helped develop a lab module for a simplified biodiesel production experiment. He has frequently visited high schools to demonstrate a bioreactor that he developed, to help recruit students for his department.
He helped Professor Michaelann Tartis develop a new freshman seminar class and introductory materials for chemical engineers.
Peter Valdez is heading for the University of Michigan's graduate program in chemical engineering, where he will be paid this summer to do research, even before he has started his graduate classes there. This is almost unprecedented for a top 10 school like Michigan.
Elaine DeBrine-Howell, associate dean of the Center for Student Success, wrote, "With his high personal standards, Peter is able to bring out the best in his fellow students. “He has been an inspiration for his fellow students. He is a role model that we would all be well to follow."
Valdez is the son of Randolph and Monica Valdez of Albuquerque. He graduated from Cibola High School.
Isaac Tobias Sachs-Quintana (left), better known as "Toby" is a self-described "green guy" who has long shown an interest in renewable energy and is applying his degree in materials engineering to study and research organic photovoltaics. Sachs-Quintana said organics have the potential to revolutionize solar power, making it much more cost efficient.
Sachs-Quintana will have the opportunity to do this research at Stanford, where he has been accepted to graduate school.
Earlier this spring, he received a Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, which is a prestigious and highly competitive award. He credited his advisor, Dr. Deidre Hirschfeld, with advising him on both his applications to both NSF and Stanford.
He also won the $1,500 top prize in a regional scientific writing competition in January 2008. His award-winning paper, “Applied Material and Energy Balance for Biomass Gasification,” was published by the Instrumentation, Testing and Evaluation Association. That paper was a result of a summer job he held at the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colo., in 2007.
His parents are Raymond Quintana of Albuquerque and Patrick Toledo and Anna Lena-Toledo, also of Albuquerque.
The Cramer Award for female student with the highest achievement in scholarship was presented to Roushan Ghanbari (right), who received a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. She is planning to attend graduate school at Texas A&M for a master's degree in nuclear non-proliferation.
Besides her great academic performance, Roushan amassed impressive professional work experience, holding a summer internship with Sandia National Laboratories. During the semester, Roushan worked for the Mechanical Engineering Department as a ABET analyst, gathering the data that helped the Mechanical Engineering Department achieve accreditation. She has also been a teaching assistant for Engineering Science Lab.
Roushan also actively participated in the social life of the department and the university. She was a president of Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. She was also a secretary of ASME New Mexico Tech student chapter. During four years, Roushan was receiving NMT Presidential Scholarship.
The Founder's Award, for the graduate student who made an outstanding contribution to the Institute through scholarship, research, and involvement in campus affairs, went to Shasta Marrero (left). Marrero, who earned her master's degree in hydrology, has been a very effective leader, advancing graduate student interests as president of the Graduate Student Association. She is working to resurrect recycling on campus and in Socorro, which grew out of a project when she was president of the Earth Science Club. Shasta is a student who can think across boundaries toward the larger implications of her work.
Marrero is staying at New Mexico Tech to work on her Ph.D. under Dr. Fred Phillips with the CRONUS project.
The Langmuir Award for an outstanding scientific research paper by a student or recent graduate of New Mexico Tech, went to Chemistry graduate student Manoj Kumar. (Right: Manoj Kumar, center, is congratulated by Dr. Lopez, left, and Dr. David Johnson, right.)
The research that Manoj Kumar carried out over the last year led to an article titled "Highly sensitive and selective oligonucleotide sensor for sickle cell disease gene using photon upconverting nanoparticles." This was published in the January 2009 issue of Biosensors and Bioelectronics.
Mr. Kumar describes the design and development of a sensor, based on photon upconverting nanoparticles, which can detect the gene related to the sickle cell disease gene with high sensitivity and specificity. The design of the sensor is versatile and easy to implement. Nucleotide sensors of this type are expected to be effective for applications in other DNA/RNA detections.
Since then, Manoj Kumar has extended his work and developed another oligonucleotide sensor for label-free DNA detection. This scheme has an even higher sensitivity of detection and without the need of fluorophore labeling. This work is leading to even further publications.
New Mexico Tech conferred several special awards during the ceremonies. The Distinguished Teaching Award was given to Dr. Jeff Altig of the Chemistry Department. Altig, who was nominated by over 150 students, holds an unusual, blended position: he is both a teaching faculty member, as an assistant professor of chemistry, and he is also the laboratory coordinator for the Chemistry Department.
In the latter role, he has the challenging task of retooling and modernizing New Mexico Tech's chemistry labs, from freshman through senior, from concepts to lab manuals to software. His mission is to make the learning and discovery in the lab classes - the same learning and discovery Dr. Westpfahl talked about earlier - flow together with the theory being taught in chemistry classes and also flow logically from beginning to advanced chemistry.
In addition, Dr. Altig has been very instrumental in developing a "pre-college" introductory course in Chemistry for first-time students who lacked sufficient skills to take Tech freshman courses in that field.
Dr. Altig earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Oregon and his Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He taught extensively in the Portland area and worked as a software engineer before coming to Tech.
Dr. Altig describes his philosophy of teaching as a quasi-historical approach, reading some original scientific papers and trying to draw connections between phenomena being studied and the theoretical discussion. In the process of proving to chemistry students that chemistry is not dogma, he has been known to present attention-grabbing demonstrations such as oxidizing Gummy Bears.
Students who nominated him for this award commented that Dr. Altig is not only able to explain very complex concepts to them, but he also has been available to answer their chemistry questions on other classes, and long after students have finished taking his classes.
As several students commented: "Altig rocks!"
The Distinguished Research Award was given to Dr. William Rison of the Electrical Engineering Department. Dr. Bill Rison has been a mainstay in the electrical engineering department since he joined the department in 1984. His research into lightning has included numerous breakthroughs in instrumentation, data-analysis and lightning protection models.
When Dr. Rison joined New Mexico Tech, many of the researchers who had propelled Tech into becoming one of the world leaders in lightning research were approaching retirement age. Dr. Rison was one of the new generation, in which physicists and electrical engineers collaborated to continue the tradition of exceptional research.
Dr. Rison quickly became a leading national spokesman for scientific approaches to and evaluation of lightning protection techniques.
His expertise in electrical engineering added a new dimension to the study of lightning, beginning with his real-time signal processing system for meteorological radar.
In 1995, on the way home from a conference, Rison, along with Dr. Paul Krehbiel and Dr. Ron Thomas, conceived the Lightning Mapping Array, or LMA.
The LMA has revolutionized lightning warning systems worldwide, by making three-dimensional images of lightning channels within storms. LMAs designed and built at Tech are used by the National Severe Storm Laboratory in Oklahoma, White Sands Missile Range and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
Dr. Krehbiel credits Dr. Rison with being “the technical and scientific genius” behind the LMA. Dr. Rison designed and built a state-of-the-art circuit card for the LMA, from an inexpensive 486 PC. The system is elegant in its simplicity, yet powerful, compact and inexpensive.
While the Lightning Mapping Array has been at the forefront of Dr. Rison’s achievements, he has a long list of other scientific breakthroughs. In recent years, his research has included electrical fields in thunderstorms and the elusive study of x-rays created by lightning. He has developed a series of balloon-borne instruments to study electrification in storms and has an innate knack ability to solve problems in creative ways.
With this award, Dr. Rison joins an elite group of Tech professors who have won both the Distinguished Research Award, which we award to him this year and the Distinguished Teaching Award, which he won in 1995. He is only the third professor to win both awards.
Members of the Class of 1959 were acknowledged on the occasion of their 50th reunion. Left to right: C.H. Dunaway, Lawrence Fleming, Jr., Meliton M. Garcia, Kenneth H. Jones, Alvis McDonald, and Lee Andrews
The New Mexico Tech Alumni Association presented its Distinguished Service Award to Dr. William Wilkinson, an alumnus who helped bring to fruition a major donation from Freeport-McMoRan to the Mineral Engineering Department. Freeport-McMoRan donated one million dollars to endow a faculty position in the Mineral Engineering Department at New Mexico Tech.
Not only has Dr. Wilkinson provided impetus for a major donation to the Institute, he has also had significant achievements within the field of mining engineering. He has over 35 years of experience in mineral exploration and has worked in base and precious metal exploration worldwide. He is Vice President, Africa, for Freeport-McMoRan Exploration Corp. in Phoenix, Arizona. Prior to the merger of Freeport-McMoRan and Phelps Dodge Copper Mining Company, he was the assistant to the president of Phelps Dodge Exploration and vice president of exploration for the company.
Dr. Wilkinson is the current president and a Distinguished Member of the Society of Mining Engineers (SME). He has held numerous positions in SME, including past chair of the Mining & Exploration Division, program chair for the 2002 Annual meeting, SME Board member, SME Foundation Board member, and a member of the Registered Member Ethics Committee.
The Distinguished Achievement Award was presented posthumously to Michael Provenza, who had an extensive career in mining engineering before passing away last January. The award was accepted by his son, Jeffrey Provenza.
Right: Jeffrey Provenza, son of the late Mike Provenza, accepts the Distinguished Achievement Award from Brett Wendt, president of the Alumni Association.
Provenza, a 1975 graduate, with a bachelor's degree in mining engineering, who passed away last January. He held many positions within the mining industry.
Most recently, Michael Provenza was a General Mine Manager for Chevron Mining Inc., (formerly The Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Co.), managing mines in Raton, and Gallup.
Mike was an outstanding leader at McKinley Mine of Chevron Mining Inc. Under his leadership the mine achieved 1 million man hours without a lost time accident in May 2006. Also, two times under his leadership, the goal of 365 days without a lost time accident was achieved. Mike's strong safety values were instrumental in these achievements.
Mike became known as a quiet person who provided solid leadership when it was needed.
He was one of the leaders within the Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute. As vice president of the group, he brought together many outstanding speakers at the Arizona-New Mexico meeting and provided information and connection points which might not have been available without his efforts.
One of Provenza's fellow students at Tech, Dr. William X. Chavez, who is now on the faculty, recalled that Mike was "perennially disposed to assist his fellow students in their class work, and he did so happily. Because he was good in his studies, students in our engineering classes benefited from his savvy and his ability to explain and solve engineering problems."
The Student Association gave three awards to a faculty member, a staff member and a student. The winners are Gina Chavez, physics department staff member, chemistry professor Dr. Jeff Altig, and student Kerri Harvey, a senior in the chemical engineering department.
The Graduate Student Association’s annual award went to the Graduate Student Office, including Dr. Dave Johnson, the dean of graduate studies and secretaries Debbie Wallace and Karen Chavez.