Five Young Leaders Get Student Appreciation Awards

SOCORRO, N.M. April 19, 2010 – Five New Mexico Tech students and one group will be honored with Student Appreciation Awards at a special banquet Sunday, May 2, at the Stage Door Grill.

The honorees – while all academically gifted – are being recognized for contributing to the campus community through volunteerism. The 2010 honorees are Victor Briseño, Zahra Ghanbari, Shanker Muraleedharan, Premchendar Nandhikonda and Austin Silva. The organizational award goes to the Residential Hall Association.

“I’m thrilled that we have brought back these awards this year,” Vice President of Student & University Relations Melissa Jaramillo-Fleming said. “Many of our brilliant students demonstrate leadership and service to the New Mexico Tech community. Aside from the occasional verbal ‘Thank you,’ these students are rarely acknowledged for their contributions. This is our way of showing that the university values excellence in service as well as academics.”

Director of Student Services Chelsea Buffington said this year’s winners are all top students and are well-respected by faculty and staff.

“These are students who go above and beyond the call of duty,” she said. “Many Tech students excel academically, but a precious few can balance community service with their class work. This is our opportunity to show our appreciation.”

Victor Briseño

Dr. Michaelann Tartis nominated Vic Briseño because he has been involved in numerous volunteer efforts and shown leadership in academic areas.

“Victor Briseño has given generously with his time and effort on projects that benefit both New Mexico Tech and the greater Socorro community,” Tartis wrote. “Vic is one of those Techies that not only has a nerdy side but a side that loves to be around people, gather people, and plan social events that bring our students, faculty and staff together.”

Tartis listed nearly a dozen activities in which Briseño has been active. He has volunteered as a judge for Science Fair and Science Olympiad, helped teach Mini Course, organized the department’s effort to create a 49’ers float two years, and spearheaded the Chemical Engineering Car Competition team.

Tartis said one of his most important contributions in leadership has been mentoring underclassmen within the department.

“Vic gave his time to younger students, as he mentored them and gave them feedback on their very first design projects as Tech engineering students,” Tartis wrote. “His efforts, generosity, kindness, and contributions deserve to be recognized as one of the few Techies, that despite constant busy-ness, will always stop to help others and enjoy the personal side of things.”

Briseño graduated from Grants High School.

Zahra Ghanbari hugs a miner.

Zahra Ghanbari

An Albuquerque native, Ghanbari is a junior materials engineering student who was among a core group of students who revitalized the American Society of Materials student chapter.  She was also recently featured on the Tech website as a "Standout Techie."

Her professors Dr. David Burleigh and Dr. Deidre Hirschfeld mentioned her efforts in organizing the inaugural statewide ASM conference in Socorro in February. 

In her nomination, Hirschfeld wrote that Ghanbari is academically gifted and always helps underclassmen understand material.

She led the department’s effort to build a 49’ers parade float, volunteered at the Community Arts Party and spoke to middle school students at the School to World event in Albuquerque.

“She continually goes above and beyond the call of duty as a citizen of New Mexico Tech,” Hirschfeld wrote. “She truly deserves recognition.”

Shanker Muraleedharan

A master’s student in petroleum engineering, Muraleedharan has shown his leadership within the department and in the Indian Student Association.

Shankar Muraleedharan


Dr. Tom Engler praised Muraleedharan for being helpful, selfless and engaging.

“His enthusiastic and friendly manner frequently results in spontaneous mentoring,” Engler wrote. “His positive attitude is infectious among others students. Plus, he cooks excellent Indian curry for faculty, staff and students.”

Muraleedharan is also chauffer, social coordinator and welcoming committee for the Petroleum Engineering Department. He often meets new graduate students at the Albuquerque airport and frequently brings them into his house for several days while helping them find their own apartments. He is consistently the first person to volunteer to drive on department field trips.

Heidi Guerra of the Petroleum Recovery Research Center also nominated Muraleedharan, writing that he is extremely helpful and serves as a role model for other students.

Muraleedharan also donated his hair (four years of growth) to provide wigs for cancer patients through the “Locks of Love” program.


Premchendar Nandhikonda

Prem Nandhikonda at work in the chemistry lab.


A doctoral student in chemistry, Nandhikonda has made his mark in the research lab and in the classroom. However, Dr. Michael Heagy praised him as a leader, mentor, ambassador, volunteer and tutor.

As Heagy’s right-hand man in the lab, all chemistry students benefit from Nandhikonda’s research acumen. Heagy wrote that he counts on him to train undergraduate students in lab routines.

Since coming to Tech in 2006, he has helped in fund-raising efforts for the Chemistry Club and the Socorro Cooperative Nursery. He has also participated in the Socorro Community Clean-up.

“Prem continues to help out with campus events, such as a Science Olympiad event organizer in consecutive years, but his selfless support of the Cooperative Nursery School, in my opinion, best personifies his character,” Heagy wrote.

As a lab leader and instructor for the summer Research Experience for Undergraduates, Nandhikonda has mentored visiting students from around the country. Not only have the students given high marks for Tech's lab programs, one of his chemistry students decided to come to New Mexico Tech for graduate school, Heagy said.

Austin Silva

A senior in electrical engineering from Albuquerque, Silva has made his mark in academics, research, leadership and volunteerism.

Austin Silva staffs a booth soliciting material donations for victims of the Haiti earthquake earlier this semester.


“Austin is exceptionally creative, analytically skilled, and entirely personable,” lab manager Andy Tubesing wrote in his nomination. “He exudes an air of good-natured kindness in a genuinely wholesome way, and treats people and situations with respect.”

Tubesing hired Silva as a teaching assistant when he was still a freshman.

“Hiring a freshman as a TA was an unprecedented occurrence, but this is a testament to the kind of student and worker I have found Austin to be: academically gifted, notably skilled, highly engaged, and consummately reliable,” Tubesing wrote.

Silva has demonstrated leadership in a variety of areas. He leads his student design team, serves as a teacher and tutor, worked as a Residential Assistant, judges Science Olympiad, is an officer in IEEE and volunteers through Engineers Without Borders. He spearheaded the student effort to collect temporary shelter materials to send to Haiti earlier this year.

Tubesing wrote, “Always exploring, ever imagining applications for his knowledge and imparting it to others, and sharing the fruits of those talents with people in need, Austin has proven himself as an exceptional asset to New Mexico Tech, the greater New Mexico community, and beyond.”

Residential Hall Association

The Residential Hall Association serves the 600 students who live on campus and is led by an elected board of students. Residential Life director Ruth Stoddard nominated the Association for its ongoing efforts to involve students in extracurricular activities.

The Association hosts blood drives every semester, which garnered a statewide award from United Blood Services as the best college drive in New Mexico. The RHA officers have promoted several philanthropic programs, including a fund drive for the statewide Ronald McDonald houses. The group also hosts student events throughout the semester.

“This organization is on the up and coming list of student organizations at New Mexico Tech that will be making a positive experience for our students,” Stoddard wrote. “Tech is fortunate to have a growing RHA organization on campus.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech