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Student Excellence

Over its 125 years, New Mexico Tech has developed a reputation for excellence in research and teaching. The university has evolved over the decades from a mining school to a leader in technology, science and engineering. The typical student at Tech is an achiever, someone who excels in the classroom, in the laboratory, in the field and in extracurriculars.

Here are a few of the amazing achievements by Techies in recent years.

Chemical engineering senior Mason Risley won the top scholarship from the American Institute of Chemical Engineering in the fall of 2010. A native of Santa Fe, Risley was selected from a nationwide pool of students to receive the John J. McKetta Scholarship. The $5,000 award is based on a three-page essay about career goals, recommendation letters and academic performance.“It’s definitely a privilege and honor to receive this award,” Risley said. “There’s only one offered each year. It seems pretty prestigious. When I saw that I got this award, I was pretty relieved. I should be able to graduate without any debt. Considering I am putting myself through college, that’s a big accomplishment.”

Petroleum engineering junior Breanne Dunaway won a competitive scholarship from the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers Foundation for Energy Education in April 2010. Dunaway said she was excited to be the first New Mexico Tech student to win the Joseph King McMahon Petroleum Engineering Scholarship – and the first winner not from a Texas university. Students from nine universities with petroleum engineering departments applied for the scholarship. Dunaway won based on two essays and her academic record. Dunaway received the $2,500 award at the Alliance’s annual expo in Wichita Falls, Texas, which was attended by more than 1,100 industry representatives.A native of Holdredge, Nebraska, Dunaway chose New Mexico Tech because she wanted the best petroleum engineering education available.

A team of three materials engineering students at New Mexico Tech received an oversized check for the $15,000 top prize in the clad metal “Best Idea Contest” in 2010. The winners received their award at a presentation ceremony in June 2010 in Socorro. The winning entry, “Magnesium Clad Titanium Acoustical Speaker Cones,” was submitted by Marcus Chavez and Corey Gibson, both of Los Lunas, and Brendan Nation of Marysville, Wash., all seniors at New Mexico Tech. The students developed their entry concept as the mini-project in their capstone Senior Design class taught by Prof. Deidre Hirshfeld.

Four environmental engineering students earned second place and widespread accolades in May 2010 at the Rocky Mountain Student Design Competition. Sean Menk, Clayton Freed, Christine Polo and Amelia Symonds used the competition as their senior thesis project to design a new water treatment facility for the City of Denver.As the runners-up in the competition, the quartet was invited to present their research project to the regional American Water Works Association conference in Keystone, Colo., in September 2010. From that presentation, they were invited to deliver their presentation to the local American Water Works Association chapter meeting in Rio Rancho. Their 150-page report and 20-minute presentation detailed their engineering design and economic analysis research about either retro-fitting an aging water plant in Denver or building a new plant.

Techies also excel outside of academia. The New Mexico Tech Chess Club maintained its perfect record against the University of New Mexico, winning the New Mexico Collegiate Chess title in December 2010. Since the beginning of the collegiate championship in 2003, Tech has won every year.

Master’s student Elissa Eastvedt is the star of a 4-minute video exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. The interactive digital video exhibit explains how thunderstorms become electrified and produce lightning. She also explains how she and other physicists trigger lightning by firing rockets into overhead thunderstorms. Eastvedt is a high school physics teacher in Long Beach, Calif, and has spent eight summers at Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research at New Mexico Tech researching lightning, firing rockets and triggering strikes.

She was inspired to enter a master’s program at New Mexico Tech after watching a Nova program about lightning that included footage from Langmuir Lab. At Langmuir Lab atop South Baldy, she is responsible for firing rockets that trigger lightning strikes. Physicists at the Lab then capture lightning strikes with high-speed cameras.

“My job is to launch rockets and make sure everyone gets data [from lightning strikes],” Eastvedt said. “The high-speed camera gives you a new perspective of what’s going on. It shows a lot of unanswered questions.”The result of her interactive exhibit is that museum-goers will be able to launch virtual rockets that trigger lightning. Castellini compared Eastvedt’s portion of the exhibit to a digital video game. “You walk up and get to see me talking and explaining what goes on in a thunderstorm,” Eastvedt said. “Then, you’ll get to try to launch a virtual rocket. You’ll touch a button and launch one of three rockets. The end of the show will be high-speed video of triggered lightning. So, kids will think they’ve just triggered lightning.”

Tyler Bushnell won third place in the Undergraduate Technology and Engineering Poster Competition at the HENAAC conference in Orlando in October 2010. He presented his research into Vertical Axis Wind Turbines, which was an offshoot of his senior design clinic research project.Bushnell ran computer simulations and wind tunnel tests on several different airfoil designs for vertical axis wind turbines. His goal was to find an airfoil that functions well in an urban setting, and is much different from rural, mass-producing wind turbine airfoils. Bushnell and two classmates also won awards at the 2009 HENAAC conference.

Orson John, a native of Tohatchi, N.M., was selected for a prestigious internship at the Goddard Space Flight Center for the summer of 2009. He was invited back for the summer of 2010, and also added a semester-long co-op program. He worked on reliability analysis for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. “It was a great experience,” Orson said. “I actually worked on satellites.” 

Julien Chaput, a doctoral student in geophysics, is among a core group of Earth science students who has been involved in research in Antarctica. He has spent three seasons working at the bottom of the world. He worked one season at the Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory and two seasons on the POLENET program, or Polar Earth Observing Network. In any given year, up to eight Tech graduate students travel to Antarctica to conduct research.

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