Three New Mexico Tech Students Garner Statewide Engineering Awards

By Thomas Guengerich

SOCORRO, N.M., Feb. 12, 2009 – The New Mexico Society of Professional Engineers will honor three New Mexico Tech students with statewide engineering awards at the Society’s annual banquet Friday, Feb. 13, in Albuquerque.

Kyle Chavez, a mechanical engineering senior, will receive the top prize as Engineering Student of the Year. The two runners-up are Assiya Bekniyazova, a graduate student in petroleum engineering and Philip Heid, a senior in civil engineering.

The three students and their nominating professors have been invited to attend the banquet, where they will be recognized by the statewide membership of the Society. The group will also honor top students from the University of New Mexico, as well as announce the statewide awards for professional engineers.

“These award winners are not only excellent academically, but they have shown a track record of contributing to their programs,” said Dr. Peter Gerity, Tech vice president of academic affairs. “These are outstanding students.”

A key benchmark for award winners is their contribution to the field of engineering outside of the classroom. Each of the winners has been involved in notable engineering projects.

Kyle Chavez

Kyle Chavez

Since arriving at Tech in 2005 as a freshman, Chavez has distinguished himself in the classroom, by helping professors and volunteering for academic organizations and through helping his fellow students.

Dr. Warren Ostergren of the mechanical engineering department nominated Chavez based on his performance, his work ethic and his leadership.

“Kyle has a probing mind that seeks to understand the fundamental aspects of mechanical design issues,” Ostergren wrote in his nomination. “He shares his knowledge with others, and as such has earned the respect and trust of faculty and students alike.”

After his freshman year, Chavez spent the summer working for Intel as a manufacturing engineer intern. For the past two summers, Chavez has worked as an engineering intern for NASA in Huntsville, Ala.

Chavez was born and raised in Tijeras and graduated from Moriarty High School. During his first summer working for NASA, Chavez’s main project was designing and creating structural components for a robot. His secondary project was developing lunar dust simulants. During his second year, his main focus was developing lunar dust simulants and studying the physical properties of simulants and Apollo lunar soil samples.

“Both of my NASA internships were awesome,” he said. “The professional experiences that I had during my internships were invaluable. My projects were real engineering projects and were challenging, which led to a great experience. Of course, they’re trying to get people to work at NASA, but they also want to prepare students for an actual career in engineering.

Chavez said he didn’t expect to win the award because so many Tech students have equally as impressive resumes and experiences.

“I was quite ecstatic because I really didn’t expect to win,” Chavez said. “All of the students nominated have good GPA’s and a lot of them did internships. So, it’s definitely an honor to be chosen. I was very excited to hear that I won … and I still am.”

Chavez said New Mexico Tech was the best choice for his undergraduate studies because of the small class size, exceptional instruction and the ample scholarship opportunities.

“The scholarships available really let you focus on your education,” he said. “It really takes the financial problem out of the equation.”

As part of the Senior Design Clinic, Chavez is the leader of a team developing heliostats as a renewable energy source and alternative to fossil fuels. A heliostat is a large mirror which reflects solar energy onto a central receiver.

“Kyle has shown tremendous initiative in helping this team overcome technical issues with its control system and in launching external efforts to secure additional funding,” Ostergren said. “He demonstrates the technical capability, personal skills, and critical values that are so important for technical success today.”

Chavez expects to graduate in December 2009 and pursue a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He hopes to start his career either in renewable energy or aerospace engineering.

His parents are Chano Chavez and Rosalinda Romo and the late Rose Ann Chavez.

Assiya Bekniyazova

Assiya Bekniyazova

A native of Kazakhstan, Bekniyazova earned a bachelor’s of industrial economics from the Kazakh National University of Technology in Aktobe in 2006. She then earned a bachelor’s in petroleum engineering from New Mexico Tech in December 2008. She is scheduled to earn a master’s in petroleum engineering, also from Tech, later this year.

Bekniyazova has distinguished herself by working on a research project with Shell Oil to diagnose stress-sensitive permeability in a tight gas reservoir. She spends part of her time in Shell’s Calgary office working directly with their engineering group. Previously, she worked for Kazakh Oil Aktobe, assisting on an engineering project to increase the capacity of a central processing facility.

Petroleum engineering professor Dr. Tom Engler nominated Bekniyazova based on her academic performance, leadership and initiative.

“As an exceptional undergraduate, she is one of a few whom I allowed in my graduate-level Gas Reservoir Management course,” Engler said. “Her work is not one of the best; it is the best I have seen in years. She is insightful, inquisitive and knowledgeable, frequently investigating a topic or reviewing literature on her own prior to coming to me for further discussion and/or clarification.”

Assiya is active in several community projects, volunteering for fundraising and being a member of a variety of professional societies.

“She organizes meetings, field trips and conferences,” Engler said. “Without her nothing would get done.”

Philip Heid

Philip Heid

A native of Louisville, Ky., Heid has an excellent academic record and distinguished himself by spearheading the civil engineering department’s Bridge Building team.

“It feels good to be recognized,” Heid said. “I really didn’t expect it.”

Professors Dr. Mark Cal and Dr. Claudia Dias Wilson nominated Heid based on his excellent academic record, his strong work ethic and his involvement in extracurricular activities.

Heid led the civil engineering team that scored high marks in the regional bridge building competition in the spring of 2008.

“He is one of the very best undergraduate students that I have had the privilege to work with,” Cal wrote. “I have found him to be an honest person with a good sense of ethics and integrity, and I’m certain that he will become an excellent engineer.”

Since transferring to Tech from Berea College in Kentucky, Heid has worked as a grader, as a proctor for the computer laboratory and as a member of the technical staff on two research projects.

“I figured if I am going to become a civil engineer, I should embrace all the opportunities available to me,” he said. “I was fortunate to get onto the bridge building team during my first year. Even then, I was able to help, compete and be an asset to the team.”

Cal said Heid was a key member of the New Mexico airport pavement evaluation project team, which made recommendations to the state Department of Transportation about the remaining pavement life and about the schedule for pavement resurfacing.

He is currently working on a project with Cal to evaluate the blast response of structures to explosions, and to reconcile observed field measurements with modeled results. He has received two prestigious awards for his work and completed an internship with Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, the noted regional architectural firm.

“New Mexico Tech prepared me very well for an internship,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I was lacking anything when I was working at D/P/S.”

Dias Wilson said Heid is a remarkable student who has earned the respect of his fellow students, faculty and administrators.

“I have come to rely on him greatly in the past two years,” Cal said. “He is capable of grasping both the theoretical and practical aspects of engineering. He learns very quickly, and I would describe him as a mature, conscientious student with excellent future potential.

– NMT –