Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

NMSU honors faculty for excellence in research and creativity at the Spring 2022 convocation

By Carlos Andres López, Senior Communications Specialist NMSU News Team

New Mexico State University faculty and staff on the Las Cruces campus came together to honor a group of colleagues for outstanding research and creativity at the university’s commencement ceremony.

More than 100 people attended NMSU’s 2022 Spring Convention, held Jan. 11 at Atkinson Recital Hall, and others watched online as NMSU presented its top academic honors to a group of eight faculty members, including two filmmakers.

In his opening remarks, NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu thanked faculty and staff for their dedication to NMSU.

“The last few years have been challenging,” said Arvizu. “I know we have a lot of very, very dedicated people and I’m particularly excited about that part. One thing I have learned over the last three years is that there is no shortage of talent, there is no shortage of potential for what this institution and our staff and faculty can do.”

Separately, NMSU Acting Provost and Vice President of Student Success Renay Scott commended the faculty for strengthening NMSU’s mission as a land grant, Hispanic and minority serving institution through robust research, teaching and service.

“This interconnected, symbiotic relationship of research, teaching, and service is the primary reason the teaching experience for our students at NMSU is unique among any university or college in the United States,” said Scott. “You, the faculty, the researchers, the TAs, you bring your research and service to the classroom. And that further strengthens our mission, our HSI-MSI mission.”

Scott co-chaired the ceremony with Tara Gray, Associate Provost for Faculty Development, Convocation Coordinator and Director of the NMSU Teaching Academy. Luis Cifuentes, Vice President for Research, moderated the award ceremony.

The award winners included:

Ehsan Dehghan-Niri, Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil Engineering and Associate Faculty Member in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, received the Early Career Award.

Dehghan-Niri established the NMSU Intelligent Structures and Non-Destructive Evaluation Laboratory, which enables state-of-the-art non-destructive testing capabilities for industrial, aerospace and structural materials. He is the author of more than 25 scientific journal publications and 14 US and European patents and received the 2021 NSF CAREER Award, one of the most prestigious awards from the National Science Foundation.

Jessica Houston, Professor and Interim Chair of the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, and Elba Serrano, Regents Professor of Biology, each received the Distinguished Career Award.

Houston’s research expertise spans biomedical engineering with a focus on flow cytometry instrument development, biophotonics and optofluidics. She runs an on-campus flow cytometry instrumentation lab and has mentored more than 50 undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students during her 12 years at NMSU.

Serrano’s research focuses on the development of mechanosensory systems for hearing and balance and the role of neuroglia in maintaining brain function. Her research has received ongoing funding from awards totaling more than $25 million from the National Institutes of Health, NSF, and NASA. Serrano currently serves as NMSU’s Senior Principal Investigator for the NSF HSI National STEM Resource Hub.

Raena Cota, program manager in the Computing Division and connector for the Southwest region of the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions, received the Research Recognition Award.

Since joining the computer science department in 2014, Cota has led several K-12 outreach and professional development programs including Discover Science Through Computational Thinking; Young women in IT; Verizon Innovative Learning; and the CompThink! Continuing education program for middle and high school teachers.

Keith H. Mandabach, professor at the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, and Dawn VanLeeuwen, who is co-professor at the Department of Economics, Applied Statistics and International Business and the Agricultural Experiment Station, won the first Team Research Award.

Mandabach, a certified chef, and VanLeeuwen, a statistician, have collaborated on several projects and papers over the past 23 years.

VanLeeuwen has collaborated with other NMSU researchers since arriving at NMSU in 1993, primarily at the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, resulting in more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles. In addition, Mandabach is a frequent speaker at academic conventions and industry conferences at home and abroad.

Mitch Fowler, cinematographer and associate professor at the Creative Media Institute, and Ross Marks, award-winning director and assistant professor at the Creative Media Institute received the second team award. Fowler and Marks collaborated on the 2021 film Walking with Herb, starring George Lopez and Edward James Olmos.

Fowler’s production experience spans 300 films including feature, documentary, short and student films. Aside from Walking with Herb, Marks is best known for directing The Twilight of The Golds and Homage. His other credits include: “The Heart Outright”, “Fowl”, “Tarrant County”, “Showdown on Rio Road” and “Fluff”.

All award winners received a plaque and a scholarship.

Spring classes began January 12 at NMSU.

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