Commencement 2004

Congratulations to New Mexico Tech Graduates, Spring 2004 and New Mexico Tech Graduates, Fall 2003.

by Kathy Hedges

SOCORRO, N.M., May 15, 2004 -- New Mexico Tech presented 307 degrees at commencement ceremonies this morning, including a record 108 master's degrees. The growing number of graduate degrees presented are an indication of the growing size of the graduate program at the state-supported research university.

Special awards presented at the commencement included:

  • Alumni Association Distinguished Achievement awards to State Rep. Don Tripp (Class of 1969) and Leyla Sedillo (Class of 1973)
  • Distinguished Teaching Award to Dr. Robert Cormack, professor of psychology
  • Distinguished Research Award to Dr. Jill Buckley, a researcher in the field of petroleum chemistry
  • Brown Award (top award to an undergraduate) to Alexander Rand, who graduated with degrees in mathematics and computer science
  • Founder's Award (top award to a graduate student) to David Wilson, graduate student in geophysics
  • Cramer awards (to top engineering students) to Dayle Kerr and Samuel Clark, both chemical engineering majors

Dr. Robert Cormack oined New Mexico Tech in 1968 and has been chair of the psychology and education departments since 1971. He has become known as an outstanding and intriguing lecturer who demands critical thinking and problem-solving of his students. He is also, as one student put it, "The advisor that every student needs." Each semester, Cormack presents a "How to Study" seminar which is a basic for incoming Tech students. As one of his students summarized, "Dr. Cormack challenges and encourages each student to strive for excellence whether it is in the classroom or off campus. His intellect, wit, and easygoing manner make learning in his classroom an experience not to be forgotten."

Dr. Jill Buckley (right) is a senior scientist at New Mexico Tech's Petroleum Recovery Research Center, where she heads the Petrophysics and Surface Chemistry Group. She has gained international recognition as a leading authority in oilfield wettability research and has authored or co-authored close to 40 publications in referred journals on these subjects. Having come into the field of petroleum engineering with a strong background in chemistry, she developed unique insights into the complex interactions between crude oil, rock, and salt water. In addition, she and her research group have developed detailed characterizations of more than 200 oil samples from around the world.

Don Tripp (who was not able to be present for the ceremony) is a 1969 graduate of New Mexico Tech with a degree in history. Since 1998, he has represented Socorro in the state legislature. He is a successful Socorro businessman, having both a mail-order jewelry parts business and a self-storage business. He was the recipient of the Governor's Viva Award for Business Excellence in 1993.

Leyla Sedillo (right), a 1973 alumna of New Mexico Tech, has a long record of public service and business success in Socorro. Sedillo served as the first woman county commissioner for Socorro County from 1976 to 1980 and as Socorro County Treasurer from 1989 to 1990. She has been an employee of New Mexico Tech since 1991 and was recently promoted to Associate Vice President for Budget. Sedillo has served on the Socorro General Hospital Board for eight years and was appointed by three different governors to the Commission for the Status of Women.

Alexander Rand

Alexander Rand(keft), recipient of the Brown Award, is the son of Greg and Christine Rand of Los Alamos. He was a 2000 graduate of Los Alamos High School and will be going on for a Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University. He received two bachelor's degrees from New Mexico Tech with highest honors, in the fields of computer science and mathematics. Rand has lead teams that have scored well in several competitions in mathematics and computer science. During the summer of 2003, Rand was an intern with the National Science Foundation's prestigious Research for Undergraduates program, during which he developed mathematical models for population dynamics. He was also recipient of New Mexico Tech's prestigious Macey Scholarship.

Dayle Kerr (right) of Los Lunas was named recipient of the Cramer Award for woman engineering student with the highest grade point average. She received a chemical engineering degree with highest honors. Since May 2000, she has conducted an internship with Sandia National Laboratories, focusing on trace detection of explosives using traditional systems such as high-performance liquid and gas chromatographs. She is also an active member of Tau Beta Pi.

Kerr is a 2000 graduate of Los Lunas High School, where she was a competitive barrel racer and breakaway roper. She is the daughter of George and Vicki Parker of Los Lunas.


Samuel Clark (left) of Roswell received the Cramer Award for male engineering student with the highest grade point average. He earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering with highest honors. Clark is a 1999 graduate of Goddard High School in Roswell. He is the son of Samuel Clark of Albuquerque and Sherry Clark Robertson of Roswell.

Clark held internships with Intel for the past two summers, and he was a member of the New Mexico Tech student team that, in the summer of 2001, flew an experiment aboard NASA's KC-135A aircraft, better known as the Vomit Comet. He also teaches a programming lab and a computer-aided drafting class for his fellow students. In his spare time, he plays cello in the Tech orchestra.


The Founder's Award for the top graduate student went to David Wilson, (right) who also graduated with a Ph.D. in geophysics. Wilson conduced seismological research into processes deep within the Rio Grande Rift, which transects New Mexico. His work led him to cross the state many times, setting up seismological equipment at 12 mile intervals.

The Langmuir Award for an outstanding scientific research paper by a student or recent graduate of New Mexico Tech went to Dr. Michelle Walvoord, (not pictured, 98, MS, hydrology; 02, Ph.D., hydrology). She was honored for a paper that appeared in Science in 2003, called "A reservoir of nitrate beneath desert soils." Walvoord, working with hydrology professor Dr. Fred Phillips and other colleagues, found unexpectedly found large concentrations of nitrate in desert subsoils. This meant that, contrary to conventional wisdom, small amounts of naturally occurring nitrate appear to have been leaching from soil layers and accumulating for thousands of years in the vadose zone of arid regions.

Scientists are concerned because high concentrations of nitrate can cause human health problems. Events such as irrigating desert soils, a shift to a wetter climate, disposal of liquid wastes, or construction of dams could release large quantities of nitrate to ground water, which in turn could potentially threaten drinking-water supplies.

On the other side of the coin, this deep reservoir of bioavailable nitrogen could prove a potential bonanza for the world's deserts, which have long been thought to be notoriously lacking in nitrogen, an essential nutrient. There has been speculation as to whether the pool of nitrate could help explain why deep-rooted woody plants have invaded the Southwest over the past century or so.

Walvoord's work has attracted enormous attention. It is mentioned on a variety of science news and views sites, including ones at USGS, NASA, LANL, and the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change.

Walvoord is now a National Research Council Post Doc with U.S. Geologic Survey Research Office in Denver. She has a prestigious Mendenhall Fellowship with the USGS.