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Acclaimed Aggies

Distinguished Alumni awardees represent the best in their fields

Every fall since 1956, the NMSU Alumni Association has presented the Distinguished Alumni Awards to some of the university’s most accomplished graduates. This year, the six newest recipients represent fields from higher education to mental health to high energy density science. The James F. Cole Memorial Award for Service, the Alumni Association’s highest award, and the Young Alumni Service Award also were presented at the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Awards Gala Nov. 3. 

“Even though their career paths and community involvement vary, each of these outstanding Aggie alumni share one thing in common: NMSU laid the foundation for their academic success,” NMSU Foundation CEO Sylvia Y. Acosta 10 says. 

The James F. Cole Memorial Award for Service recipient is Barbara Hubbard ’70, who was director of special events at NMSU from 1968 to 1996. She brought the first concert to the Pan American Center and recruited some of the biggest names in show business to Las Cruces, from Garth Brooks to Trisha Yearwood, U2, The Eagles, Jeff Dunham, Elton John and Billy Joel. She continues to work with many of these celebrities to establish and support endowed scholarships, each of which have helped scores of students over the years. Hubbard also has contributed generously to more than 25 scholarships benefiting hundreds of students.

The Young Alumni Service Award recognizes a graduate 40 or younger who has made great strides professionally and philanthropically. This year’s recipient is Lea Wise-Surguy ’15. She is the co-founder of Cruces Creatives, a nonprofit makerspace fostering economic development and furthering education, the arts, and environmental protection; strengthening social connections; and advancing science and technology throughout New Mexico.

The 2023 Distinguished Alumni recipients are: 

Jeanne Gleason ’74, College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences: Gleason spent 50 years at NMSU, most recently as department head for Innovative Media Research and Extension. Her national reputation is as an innovator in educational digital media, computer and mobile learning games and interactive media.

Gustav (Gus) Seligmann Jr. ’57, College of Arts and Sciences – Fine Arts and Humanities: Seligmann spent more than 55 years as a professor in the University of North Texas Department of History. He is the president of the New Mexico Historical Society, and his wealth of knowledge regarding western history, the history of political parties and especially New Mexico history, is renowned.

Heather Whitley ’02, College of Arts and Sciences – Sciences and Social Sciences: Whitley is associate program director for High Energy Density Science at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She provides technical oversight and management of the design, execution and analysis of experiments at the National Ignition Facility. 

Charles R. Rogers ’63, College of Business: During his five-decade career in business, Rogers held numerous corporate leadership positions in manufacturing, including at the Walt Disney Company, Warner Brothers and Hasbro. He pioneered the establishment of industry standards for corporate compliance and social responsibility, creating safer and more humane workplaces. 

John Yates Jr. ’77, College of Engineering: Yates served as vice president, president and chairman of the board of Yates Petroleum. He also serves on the board of his family’s foundation, The Illinois No. 3 Foundation, supporting organizations and projects that conserve and enhance land and water resources, provide food, shelter and education for those in need, advance medical research and promote the arts.

Christopher Kazanjian ’12, College of Health, Education and Social Transformation: Kazanjian is an associate professor of educational psychology at El Paso Community College. Teaching at Cathedral High School, Northwest Early College High School and El Paso Community College, he has contributed to the ongoing education and empowerment of youth in his community.

Nominations for next year’s awards open in January 2024. 








Seligmann Jr. 






Yates Jr.