Three Techies Earn Statewide Engineering Honors

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. March 9, 2011 – Three New Mexico Tech seniors were honored at the annual banquet of the New Mexico chapter of the Society of Professional Engineers in late February.

Will Reiser of the mechanical engineering department was named the Student of the Year. Ricardo Echeverria, mechanical, and Breanne Dunaway, petroleum engineering, were runners-up.

Two other Techies won the statewide design competition, also sponsored by the SPE. Austin Silva, a December 2010 graduate in electrical engineering, and Tyler Bushnell, a senior in mechanical engineering, won for their projects.

Will Reiser

Will Reiser has engineering in his blood. Both of his parents graduated from New Mexico Tech and his family tree is full of engineers.

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Will Reiser -- the Society of Professional Engineers'  Student of the Year at New Mexico Tech, second-generation Techie and proud owner of a slide rule.

Tim Reiser earned a master’s in mining engineering at Tech in 1975. He is now retired from ConocoPhillips. Anita (Baxter) Reiser earned her bachelor’s in environmental engineering in 1977 and works at Sandia National Laboratories.

Will is the proud owner of a family artifact of engineering – his grandfather’s slide rule. He even uses his slide rule; in his Orbital Mechanics class, Dr. Dave Westpfahl mentioned that a homework assignment could be done with a slide rule. Reiser took him up on the challenge.

Reiser is a National Merit Scholar and an Eagle Scout, and maintains a 3.97 GPA. He is active in running, biking and triathlons, Engineers Without Borders, and Tech’s swing dancing scene.

Instructor Jim Ruff wrote in his nomination letter, “Thanks to Will’s vision, altruism and work, we now have a chapter of Engineers Without Borders at Tech. … Tech has been fortunate to have Will Reiser as a student. His extraordinary combination of academic and ‘real world’ talents have benefited us in ways that will last beyond his time here.”

Reiser will finish his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in May 2011 and his bachelor’s in civil engineering in May 2012. He has ample work and research experience. He got his first taste of professional engineering as a rising senior at St. Pius High School in Albuquerque. He landed an internship at Sandia, where he mainly wrote computer programs.

“I did it because I was good at it, not because it was what I wanted to pursue,” he said. “I enjoyed solving puzzles, though.”

One of his tasks was to write a file-translation program that would convert Microsoft Word 2007 documents into Open Office documents.

He’s held a number of jobs, both in computer science and in engineering since then. For more than three years, he has worked as a research assistant in the Lab for Intelligent Systems and Structures at Tech. Most recently, he worked at Emcore, the solar cell company in Albuquerque during the summer of 2010.

“Essentially, I was the department’s resident SolidWorks monkey,” he said. “They’d gone from making a few sizes of solar cells to many more sizes. They needed to come up with fixtures to weld them together. I started by drafting up these fixtures. Then I went back and optimized the files to take silhouettes from the solar cell drawings and upload them into the existing models and drawings of the weld fixtures.”

Reiser is currently the team leader for his Mechanical Engineering Design Clinic team that is testing the space-worthiness of sensors used to monitor the health of mechanical equipment on orbiting satellites. Working with faculty advisor Dr. Andrei Zagrai, he and his team fabricated a series of piezoelectric sensor experiments that will launch into space April 1 from the New Mexico Spaceport.

“I didn’t see much use for the Spaceport before I started this project,” he said.

Reiser said he feels like Tech has prepared him quite well for whatever career he chooses. The Design Clinic curriculum in the Mechanical Engineering Department, which is four semesters, is the best preparation for a career.

He hopes to be a structural engineer. Since that is a discipline not specifically offered at Tech, he is getting two degrees in mechanical and civil engineering and taking as many structural classes as he can. After finishing the second bachelor’s in 2012, he hopes to work for a couple years, then go to graduate school.

“Part of the professional experience I’d like to go for is to find a project that I’m passionate about – so passionate that I’d work for peanuts,” he said. “I’ve been looking at the structural engineering of the San Miguel Catholic Church.”

The current San Miguel church was built in 1821 and suffers from severe structural problems. The sanctuary has been closed for several months and needs millions of dollars of repairs.

“I’m a parishioner there and that’s the sort of project I’d be really interested in working on,” he said.

Reiser has been active with the Newman Society (the campus Catholic group) and is currently the resident caretaker of the Newman Center.

Ricardo Echeverria

A senior, "Rico" Echeverria has a stellar GPA of 3.97. He has work experience with Smith Engineering in Albuquerque and research experience with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, where he has completed two internships.

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Rico Echeverria has set himself apart in his four years at Tech in the classroom, in the laboratory and through volunteerism.

For his internships, he worked on research on unmanned surface vehicles and airborne mine detection and clearance. He also gained experience in project oversight and development.

“In my first internship at the Navy Center, I learned a lot about administration,” he said. “It’s a little bit different part of engineering from what we learn in class, but you still get to do problem-solving and engineering.”

In addition to a full course load, Echeverria has served as a teaching assistant for two classes and maintained and updated software for senior design clinic. Another research project was in optimizing shaped-charge explosives with professor Dr. Seokbin Lim. Echeverria has also taught martial arts – primarily to children age 4 to 8 – since 2002.

In his nomination letter, professor Dr. Keith Miller wrote that, “Ricardo has consistently excelled at any of his accepted tasks … Ricardo Echeverria is truly a unique, outstanding individual that will well present the distinction association with the NMSPE 2011 Student of the Year Award.”

Echeverria is set to graduate in May 2011 (finishing in four years). He is tentatively planning on staying at Tech to pursue a master’s in mechanical engineering with an emphasis in explosives.

Echeverria said he appreciates the award and the recognition, but, “the most significatnt part is that a faculty member saw fit to recommend me for the award. I try to be involved and give back.”


Breanne Dunaway

The valedictorian at Holdrege High School in Nebraska, Dunaway maintains a 3.96 GPA and has earned the respect and admiration of all her instructors.

In his nomination letter, Dr. Tom Engler praised her academic abilities, personal skills in leadership and teamwork and her civic involvement.

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Breanne Dunaway knew she wanted to be an engineer long before she came to New Mexico Tech. Above, the Tech senior delivers a speech during Oil and Gas Day at the New Mexico State Legislature in late February.

“Breanne represents everything we strive for in a New Mexico Tech engineering student,” Engler wrote. “As president of the student chapter of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, Breanne has truly shown her leadership skills ...  I have not seen this student organization work so well in a number of years.”

Dunaway won a competitive scholarship from the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers Foundation for Energy Education in April 2010. She was the first student not from a Texas university to win that award.

She spent a summer working at the Petroleum Recovery Research Center at Tech – before starting her education in Socorro. She then worked two years as a lab technician at the PRRC and is now an engineering assistant at the Center.

She’s spent the past two summers on internships for ConocoPhillips in Farmington, N.M., first as a production optimization engineer, then as a drilling engineer.

Dunaway has been involved with several campus clubs in leadership positions. She is the president of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and was vice president of the Society of Women Engineers. Last year, she helped launch the campus chapter of the American Association of Drilling Engineers and served as secretary.

She has helped organize fund-raising golf tournaments, field trips and Girl Scout outreach events. She has worked a science outreach booth at SocorroFest and attended numerous conferences.

In late February, she was invited to speak at a press conference held by the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico during Oil and Gas Day at the state legislature.

“At our first SPE meeting, I volunteered to drive up to Santa Fe if two or three people wanted to go,” she said. “To my surprise, half the room raised their hands. We had 18 engineering students attend the event for the first time. ”

The strong Tech contingent both learned a lot and impressed government and industry professionals, Dunaway said.

Dunaway hopes to work for ConocoPhillips after graduation, but will keep her options open. She definitely would prefer to work as a drilling engineer for a large company.

“Location-wise, I’ll go anywhere,” she said. “I’d like to travel overseas during my career. I just want to work. … This is a business that I’ve wanted to be in for along time. I’m passionate about it and I want people to learn that it’s enjoyable. I want to share with other women that it’s a great field and there’s room for everyone.”

The SPE students lead tours of the department for recruitment events, Research@Tech Day, and Exploration Day.

“We’re trying to get prospective students interested in petroleum engineering,” she said. “I think it’s just really good to give back. It’s a cycle. There are people who have inspired me, so I want to go inspire other people as well.”


– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech