Alumni Connections

First woman to lead NASA spaceflight encourages STEM exploration

Kathy Lueders broke a glass ceiling when she was selected as NASA's associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in June 2020.

Kathy Lueders ’93 ’99 was preparing for a career on Wall Street until she decided to switch gears and pursue engineering.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of New Mexico, taking time to get married and have two children, she earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in industrial engineering at NMSU. In 1992, she began her career in the propulsion test office at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility as only the second woman to work there, where she became the Shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System and Reaction Control Systems Depot manager.

“I believe that science, technology, engineering and math activities help us solve big problems,” Lueders says. “It is how we push the industry and world to solve human problems. I wanted to be a part of finding those solutions.”

In June 2020, Lueders was selected as NASA’s associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. This time, Lueders was the pioneer as the first woman to have that role, and she’s enjoying leading her team.

“Together, we are solving problems every day and it’s one of my favorite aspects of the job,” Lueders says. “And there are a lot of small problems to solve to achieve our ultimate goal of moving humans to Mars, where NASA has already been exploring for 50 years with robotics.”

After her stint at White Sands, Lueders served as Transportation Integration Manager for the International Space Station program, which oversaw the first International cargo vehicles and brought the first commercial cargo vehicles to the ISS. From 2014 to 2020, Lueders guided NASA’s efforts to send astronauts to space on private spacecraft, which was achieved with the successful Demo-2 launch from the Kennedy Space Center in May 2020.

While Lueders has broken a glass ceiling, she wants youth to realize a similar career is not out of their reach.

“I want everybody out there to know they can have a career like mine,” she says. “I was not a space geek. I was interested in engineering because it gave me the tools to solve problems and work on something bigger. I would tell young people that working on these problems is the most fun thing in the world. They can do it. And we will need their help in solving the hard problems NASA will have in the future.”

Tiffany Acosta

Posted by grel in Fall 2020

Marina Monsisvais ’00

What advice would you give those interested in becoming an entrepreneur?

To anyone looking into becoming an entrepreneur, I say go for it. It’s hard work and it’s rewarding work, especially when you’re working toward something you believe in. I’d also say this: work for other people first. It’s important to learn leadership and management skills through real life experience. I’ve had great bosses and I’ve had horrible bosses. And guess what? I learned more from the bad bosses than from the good ones. It provides you with a good perspective on how to manage a team, because believe me, you can’t run a business without a strong team. When I went into business on my own, I did it to create a place that I’d want to work every day, that was rid of rules that don’t make sense in today’s working world, and that brings out the best in people. The golden rule stands true, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Monsisvais is founder and CEO of El Paso, Texas-based Barracuda Public Relations, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2020. She also is the host of “State of the Arts” on KTEP-FM in El Paso.

Compiled by Adriana M. Chávez ’19

Posted by grel in Fall 2020

New graduates, Ph.D. student earn highly-competitive research fellowships

Valerie Brewer

Ryan Quintana

Grace Smith-Vidaurre

Two NMSU graduates and one soon-to-be grad have joined an elite group of young scholars to earn National Science Foundation Research Fellowships, the country’s oldest fellowship that directly supports graduate students in various STEM fields.

Valerie Brewer ’20, who graduated in May, double majored in conservation ecology and biology and minored in genetics and biotechnology. The program will fund Brewer’s research for the next three years into the mating habits of song sparrows while she pursues a Ph.D. at Oregon State University, where she will join the Cornelius lab. The Tularosa, New Mexico, native’s fellowship has an annual stipend of $34,000 per year and an additional $12,000 per year for university tuition and fees.

“I aspire to a research career that will benefit the conservation of species impacted by anthropogenic activity and inform the conscientious planning of urban areas,” Brewer says.

Ryan Quintana ’20, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in May, is receiving a Graduate Research Fellowship to continue his studies at NMSU to pursue a doctorate degree in mechanical engineering. His fellowship includes a three-year, $48,000 per year award, which will fund his research project, “mechanical insights on drug delivery nanosystems: nonlocal modeling and experiments.”

“I aim to create realistic mathematical models that capture how nanoscale structures, such as carbon nanotubes, interact with their surroundings while delivering drugs to specific sites within the body,” says the Santa Fe, New Mexico, native.

Grace Smith-Vidaurre will receive her Ph.D. in biology from NMSU in December 2020. Her two-year Postdoctoral Research Fellowship begins in February 2021 and will provide a salary and research stipend of $138,000 over that time to continue her research into vocal learning habits of songbirds, specifically the zebra finch with co-mentors Erich Jarvis at The Rockefeller University and Elizabeth Hobson ’13 at the University of Cincinnati.

“As an NSF fellow, I’ll address how the early-life environment influences vocal learning. I will ask how stress, experienced early in life, alters vocal learning phenotypes through heritable epigenetic variation, or molecular variation beyond the genetic code.”

Minerva Baumann ’13

Posted by grel in Fall 2020

Distinguished Alumni

Congratulations to all of our Distinguished Alumni and our James F. Cole Memorial Award for Service and Young Alumni Service Award recipients. We’re proud of your outstanding achievements and service, and grateful for your commitment to New Mexico State University.

Klaus E. Wiemer ’85

College of Agricultural, Consumer and
Environmental Sciences

Managing partner and founder,
Poma Fertility

Jackie Seay McGehee ’79

College of  Arts and Sciences, in Fine Arts and Humanities

Retired teacher and lecturer, founder and current artistic director of the Jackie McGehee Young Artist Competition in Piano and Strings for NM Young Artists

Jesse Guardiola ’95

College of Arts and Sciences, in Sciences and Social Sciences

President, Guardiola Consulting

Jerean Camúñez Hutchinson ’80

College of Business

Co-owner, La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant and
Hacienda de Mesilla Grille, Inn & Cantina

Mariela A. Rodríguez ’03

College of Education

Professor and interim department chair, UT San Antonio

Manuel Mora ’84

College of Engineering

Vice President, General Dynamics Mission Systems

Lynn Van Pelt Fletcher ’81, ’83

College of Health and Social Services

Director of Memorial Medical Center Cancer Center

Randy Farmer ’77

James F. Cole Memorial Award for Service

College of Agricultural, Consumer and  Environmental Sciences

Owner, The Greenhouse

Russell Hernandez ’05

Young Alumni Service Award

College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences

Owner and CEO, Salud! de Mesilla

Posted by grel in Fall 2020

Alumni Successes

Brooke Sahni ’19

Cleveland, Ohio, native Brooke Sahni graduated from NMSU with her master of fine arts degree in creative writing. She wrote a 38-page book of poems titled “Divining” while working on her thesis at NMSU. Her book won the 2019 Orison Chapbook Prize and was published in July 2020.

“All of the poems in ‘Divining’ have been revised several times based on the feedback of my cohort at NMSU,” Sahni says. “We were a small group of three, just me, Jill Mceldowney, Caroline Chavatel and our teacher, (English professor) Connie Voisine. Their feedback along with NMSU graduate Tyler Julian and my undergraduate mentor Sheila Sanderson were invaluable in helping me make my poems stronger.”

In fall 2020, Sahni began teaching as an English instructor at Northern New Mexico College in Española, New Mexico, where she is using the skills she learned at NMSU to mentor and teach a new group of budding poets and writers.

Amanda Adame ’19

Lucia B. Chacón-Díaz ’17

Lucia B. Chacón-Díaz, who graduated from NMSU with a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with a focus on biology education research, was recognized in early 2020 with two prestigious awards.

Chacón-Díaz was named a recipient of the 2020 Jhumki Basu Scholar Award by the National Association for Research in Science Teaching. She will join the NARST Equity and Ethics Committee and present her research during the 2021 NARST International Conference in Orlando, Florida.

She also was named a 2020-21 AERA-Spencer Minority Meta-Analysis Fellow, engaging in meta-analysis research with a focus on science education. She will join a research panel at the 2021 AERA Annual Meeting to address the role of meta-analyses in building early career research programs.

While at NMSU, Chacón-Díaz was mentored by Susan Brown in the College of Education and Michèle Shuster in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is currently a STEM postdoc researcher in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Ohio State University.

Adriana M. Chávez ’19

Scott Crampton ’87 ’89

Scott Crampton, who spent 25 years as the baseball head coach at Lamar Community College in Lamar, Colorado, has been selected for the NJCAA Baseball Coaches Association 2020 Hall of Fame class. After 25 years and more than 1,000 wins, Crampton retired in 2018 and is LCC’s athletic director. Crampton played for the Aggies from 1983-1986 and was an assistant coach from 1987-1993 before becoming head coach at LCC.

“I was lucky enough to get my coaching start at NMSU and was able to make some lifelong friendships along the way,” he says. “The coaching and life lessons at NMSU are what molded me into the person I am today. I owe a lot to great players I was allowed to coach at NMSU in my six years as a coach.”

Crampton garnered NJCAA Region XI Coach of the Year honors nine times and led the Runnin’ Lopes to a school record for wins in 2002 with 59-5 record and a third-place finish at the JUCO World Series.

Tiffany Acosta

Posted by grel in Fall 2020

FBI Deputy Director offers advice to criminal justice students

He’s the third generation of New Mexico men to serve and protect, and now David Bowdich ’91 has the top job in the FBI not appointed by the President. As the FBI’s deputy director, he oversees all FBI domestic and international investigative and intelligence activities.

NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu pointed to Bowdich’s accomplishments as a result of hard work and a great college education.

“We have Aggies in places all around the country,” Arvizu says. “I think that promotes the value of the education that they receive here. It demonstrates the quality of people who have gone to school here at New Mexico State University.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Bowdich joined the Albuquerque Police Department following in the footsteps of his father, who later became sheriff of Bernalillo County. Bowdich’s grandfather was deputy chief of the Albuquerque Fire Department. Bowdich began climbing the ranks of the FBI in 1995 and was named deputy director in 2018.

“Part of leadership is building teams,” Bowdich says. “I found people who are smarter than me, better than me. You don’t always have to have all the answers. You have to have people around you who can help you find the right answers.”

At a November 2019 visit to campus, Bowdich talked one-on-one with criminal justice majors seeking career advice at the mentoring center, and gave a talk to more than 120 criminal justice students, faculty and local law enforcement. In response to a question from one of the students, Bowdich encouraged students to value their NMSU education against any Ivy League school.

“There is not one of those folks who is better than anyone sitting in this room,” Bowdich says. “There are some that have had exposure to other things that you might not have, but recognize that you’ve got skills. Whatever you choose to do, own it.”

Minerva Baumann ’13


David Bowdich, deputy director of the FBI, visited the NMSU campus in November 2019. During his visit, he spoke to a crowd of criminal justice faculty and students and local law enforcement. He also spoke with criminal justice students including Joseph Linares (right) and Alberto Renteria.

Posted by grel in Spring 2020

Jennifer Cervantes ’04 ’07

How can parents get their middle school-aged children to read more?

Let kids choose their reading material whether it’s fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, magazines, etc. Allowing them to fuel their minds and imaginations on their own terms is critical. And it’s okay if they don’t want to finish a book. Allow them the freedom to put it down and find something else of interest. You may find they prefer one genre over the next. Make reading fun. Go to the library together, read the same material and talk about it, see a tie-in movie and discuss the differences between the book and the film, and don’t underestimate the power of reading to a child regardless of their age. Finally, let kids see you reading. There is nothing more powerful than showing your own enthusiasm and curiosity.”

Cervantes, who writes under the pen name J.C. Cervantes, is the New York Times best-selling author of “The Storm Runner,” “The Fire Keeper” and “Tortilla Sun.” Her fourth book, “The Shadow Crosser,” will be published in fall 2020.

Compiled by Adriana M. Chávez ’19

Posted by grel in Spring 2020

Professor sparks student’s passion, lifelong correspondence ensues

The Bible’s poetry is meant to inspire the soul, but for one would-be minister, the words of an NMSU poetry professor led him beyond being a minister of education to life as a poet laureate.

Terry Lucas ’74 enrolled at NMSU in 1969 with a plan to enter seminary after graduation. He pursued a degree in philosophy but lacked enough English credits to graduate.

Terry Lucas (left) and his partner, Janet Goodman, read letters in Keith Wilson’s papers in the NMSU Library. Wilson was a poetry professor at NMSU. The materials included Lucas’ first letter to Wilson, which started a 25-year exchange.

“The only class still open that fit into my work schedule was world poetry, taught by Keith Wilson. ‘You’re not going to like it,’ my adviser warned me. I didn’t particularly like poetry and never had enjoyed reading dead authors who spoke what I thought was a different language,” Lucas says. “However, in the end, he couldn’t have been more wrong.”

Lucas and Wilson developed a strong bond beyond the classroom.

After discovering his love for poetry, Lucas wanted to change majors, but his parents were against it so he completed his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and then graduated from the seminary in 1976.

Shortly thereafter, he joined the ministry of a West Texas church.

“After three weeks I realized that I didn’t belong in that church, in the ministry or in Texas. A month or two later I reached out to Keith in desperation with a letter, really a call for help.”

It took three months for Wilson to respond. He was moving and had misplaced the letter but answered immediately once he found it, giving Lucas a specific and thoughtful critique of his poems and encouragement to send more.

“This exchange of letters began a lifelong correspondence between the two of us,” says Lucas. “For the next 25 years on and off, I sent Keith poems and questions and he sent back comments and answers and encouragement. His letters gave me the confidence to continue writing, even though I was working full time in retail to support a family after leaving the ministry.”

Wilson also wrote a letter of recommendation that would help Lucas get into the MFA Program at Columbia College Chicago. Before Wilson’s death in 2009, Lucas and his partner, Janet Goodman, were able to visit Wilson and his wife in Las Cruces. Lucas completed his MFA in 2008 and by 2013 was working full time as a poet.

Today as the Poet Laureate for Marin County, Calif., Lucas remembers vividly how Wilson changed his life. While on campus in November 2019 for a poetry reading, Lucas took a tour of the NMSU Library and read through Wilson’s papers, including that first letter Lucas wrote to Wilson, in which a former student’s passion for poetry reached a professor who helped a fledgling talent take flight.

“It has taken me six years to discover that I have to write,” Lucas wrote. “Whatever else it means for my life I do not know, but I do know that I must write.”

Minerva Baumann ’13

Posted by grel in Spring 2020

From sales to CEO, Hormel Foods leader values NMSU education

Jim Snee is the CEO, president and chairman of the board at Hormel Foods, where he leads 20,000 employees across more than 40 brands that generate more than $9 billion in annual revenue worldwide.

Jim Snee ’89 was in his final semester at NMSU, preparing to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, when he was offered a job to work in retail sales for Hormel Foods in San Francisco. His first day on the job was June 5, 1989.

More than three decades later, Snee still works for the global food company, based in Austin, Minnesota. But he’s no longer in retail sales. In the years that followed his arrival at Hormel Foods, he worked his way up, and now serves as the company’s chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer, leading 20,000 employees across more than 40 brands that generate more than $9 billion in annual revenue worldwide. 

Hormel Foods is one of the most admired global-branded food companies in the world and is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. 

“If I had to sit down and write the script for my professional career the day I graduated from New Mexico State,” Snee says, “I would’ve never been so bold to think this was in the realm of possibility.

“The education that I received from NMSU, the success of the company, and my ability to deliver results all came together in unison and allowed me to continue to advance and achieve what I’ve been able to achieve,” he says. 

Snee, who’s originally from Albuquerque, came to NMSU in 1985 to study business computer systems in the College of Business. However, he realized he was better suited for marketing and switched majors. As a student, Snee played intramural sports and joined the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity. He also met Tammy Atwater ’90, whom he later married, and who also graduated from NMSU with a political science degree.

“I always felt at home at NMSU,” he says, “and I think that speaks volumes about the culture of our amazing educational institution.”

After NMSU, Snee furthered his education while working for Hormel Foods. He earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and participated in Harvard Business School’s executive leadership and management programs.

Over the next decade, Snee advanced within the company’s leadership team, starting in 2008, when he was named vice president of affiliated business units. In 2011, he became the leader of Hormel Foods International, overseeing the company’s global portfolio. Between October 2015 and October 2016, he was named president, chief operating officer and then CEO. In 2017, he was elected to serve as chairman of the board of directors.  

Snee is the 10th president and CEO in Hormel’s 128-year history.

“There’s a multitude of things this job touches,” he says, “but more than anything, I’m the cheerleader, the champion and the spokesperson for not only how successful the business is, but all of the good things that the organization is doing that perhaps people don’t realize.”

Carlos Andres López ’10

Posted by grel in Fall 2019