NMSU honors faculty for excellence in research, creativity at spring 2022 convocation

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New Mexico State University faculty and staff on the Las Cruces campus came together to honor a group of colleagues for excellence in research and creativity at the university’s semester kick-off celebration.

More than 100 people attended NMSU’s spring 2022 convocation, held Jan. 11 in Atkinson Recital Hall, and others watched online as NMSU bestowed its top academic awards to a group of eight faculty members, including two filmmakers.

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

“The past few years have been challenging,” Arvizu said. “I know that we have a lot of very, very dedicated people, and that part is something I am particularly gratified by. One thing I learned in the last three years is that there’s no lack of talent, there’s is no lack of potential for what this institution and what our staff and faculty are able to do.”

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

“This interconnected, symbiotic relationship of research, teaching and service is the main reason the classroom experience for our students at NMSU is unique amongst all the universities and colleges in the United States,” Scott said. “It’s you, the faculty, the research scientists, the TAs, you bring your research and service into the classroom. And as a result, our mission, our HSI-MSI mission, is further strengthened.”

Scott presided over 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 awards presentation.

The award recipients included:

Ehsan Dehghan-Niri, assistant professor in the Civil Engineering Department and affiliated faculty member in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department, received the Early Career Award.

Dehghan-Niri established NMSU’s Intelligent Structures and Nondestructive Evaluation laboratory, which allows for state-of-the-art, non-destructive testing capacities for industrial, aerospace and structural materials. He has authored more than 25 scientific journal publications and 14 U.S. and European patents, and in 2021, he received the NSF CAREER Award, one of the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards.

Jessica Houston, professor and interim head of the Chemical and Materials Engineering Department, and Elba Serrano, Regents Professor of biology, each received the Distinguished Career Award.

Houston’s research expertise includes biomedical engineering, with an emphasis on flow cytometry instrument development, biophotonics and optofluidics. She directs an on-campus flow cytometry instrumentation lab and has advised more than 50 undergraduates, graduate students and postdocs in her 12 years at NMSU.

Serrano’s research focuses on developing mechanosensory systems for hearing and balance and the role of neuroglia in the maintenance of brain function. Her research has been continuously funded through awards totaling more than $25 million from the National Institutes of Health, NSF and NASA. Serrano currently serves as NMSU’s lead principal investigator for the NSF HSI National STEM Resource Hub.

Raena Cota, program manager in the Computer Science Department 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 managed multiple K-12 outreach and professional development programs, including Discover Science Through Computational Thinking; Young Women in Computing; Verizon Innovative Learning; and the CompThink! professional development program for middle- and high-school teachers.

Keith H. Mandabach, professor in the School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, and Dawn VanLeeuwen, who has a joint appointment in the Department of Economics, Applied Statistics and International Business and the Agricultural Experiment Station, won the first Team Research Award.

Mandabach, a certified executive 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, mostly in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, resulting in more than 100 refereed journal articles. Mandabach is also a much sought-after speaker at academic meetings and industry conferences both nationally and internationally.

Mitch Fowler, director of photography and associate professor in the Creative Media Institute, and Ross Marks, award-winning director and assistant professor in 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-length, documentary, short and student films. In addition to “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 stipend.

Spring classes began Jan. 12 at NMSU.