Around Aggieland

NMSU’s first woman to earn a Ph.D. had transformative mathematics career

When Carol Walker applied to study for her doctorate degree in mathematics at NMSU, her music degree didn’t impress her adviser in the mathematics department.

Professor Elbert Walker asked Carol Hardy, as she was known then, to try her hand at a graduate level math course to see if she had what it took. Her performance convinced him. In 1963, she became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. at NMSU, and only the second person to earn a Ph.D. in math.

“Carol Walker got a Ph.D. in mathematics at a time when likely one percent of mathematics Ph.D.s were women,” says John Harding, NMSU mathematical sciences department head. “She had a distinguished research career, was the department head in math for many years and was instrumental in transforming the department to three times its size.”

Although her legacy is in mathematics, Walker’s interests in high school were physics and music. She graduated as valedictorian of her high school and earned a Regents Scholarship to the University of Colorado at Boulder.

“I decided to study music education, majoring in piano,” Walker says. “Being a woman in the 1950s, I thought that getting a degree in physics, and not being able to use it, might be too frustrating. An education degree was ‘just in case.’”

After earning her Ph.D.in mathematics, she married Elbert Walker. The pair continued to teach in NMSU’s Department of Mathematical Sciences for decades.

“As a professor, the most important thing was trying to make my students independent thinkers,” she says.

Her research spanned seven decades. She published 10 books, numerous articles and served as the department head of mathematical sciences at NMSU for 14 years.

In the 1960s, Walker didn’t consider herself a pioneer. “It wasn’t something people thought about that much at the time.”

On her 85th birthday in August 2020, NMSU honored Walker with a plaque and drive-by celebration at her home in Las Cruces, due to pandemic restrictions.

“Dr. Carol Walker is not only a role model for women, but also for any student who might be reluctant to take a chance at pursuing a career in STEM fields,” says Enrico Pontelli, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Minerva Baumann ’13

Top: Carol Walker holds the award she received from NMSU honoring her as the university’s first female Ph.D. Walker earned her doctorate in mathematics in 1963.

Posted by grel in Spring 2021

Scholarship helps DACC students reach their goal line

Eddie Binder, who passed away in April 2020, was key in establishing the Goal Line Scholarship at Doña Ana Community College.

In 2017, Ike Ledesma realized there was a significant need among some Doña Ana Community College students.

Every semester, DACC coordinates a graduation campaign, an effort to help students prepare for the last stages of their certificate or degree and the launch to their careers. Ledesma, vice president for Student Services, saw that many students nearing the end of their degrees were finding themselves out of financial aid. Seeing an opportunity to address that, he and Eddie Binder ’12, vice president of External Relations, got to work. The Goal Line Scholarship was born.

Binder, who passed away in April 2020, was a major part of moving the scholarship forward. He identified donors who would contribute to the Goal Line Scholarship.

“Eddie played an integral part of this process by ensuring funds would be available to students who met the criteria,” Ledesma says.

For those students, applying is easy. Students have to be enrolled at DACC with a minimum of six credit hours. They need to have a GPA of at least 2.0, demonstrate a great financial need, and complete a personal statement as part of the application. If awarded, they also are eligible for matching funds from the Jon Wynne Scholarship at the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico.

Ledesma says the scholarship is critical to helping students complete their higher education goals. Many are just a few credits short of graduating, but dont have funds to pay the rest of the way. Even though many of these same students work jobs while attending school, they do not have the luxury of finishing their education without a little assistance. Many have commitments at home caring for children or other family members. That’s where the Goal Line Scholarship helps. It removes one of the largest obstacles the student faces and allows them to focus on their studies.

The Goal Line Scholarship is only one of many scholarships offered at DACC. It is the only one focused on helping students complete their college journey, and crossing that goal line is important. A college credential can clear the path for another degree, a new career or the next promotion.

To make a donation to the Goal Line Scholarship, go to advancing.nmsu.edu/givenow. Click on the fund tab and select Doña Ana Community College.

Denise LaFrance-Ojinaga ’03

Posted by grel in Spring 2021

Faculty Successes

$1 million USDA grant supports program for minority students

NMSU is transforming the educational experience for underrepresented minority  students through an innovative, cross-campus collaboration funded by a $1 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture – the research, education and economics arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The four-year project, known as “Enhancing Hispanic Access to Natural Resource and Agricultural Careers through Education, Mentorship and Training,” or “ENHANCEMENT,” works to recruit, retain and prepare underrepresented minorities for educational and work opportunities in the natural resource and agriculture fields.

Alvaro Romero, associate professor of urban entomology, leads a faculty team that identifies minority students from NMSU’s branch campuses and prepares them to transfer into a four-year degree program. These students receive faculty-supervised mentoring from graduate students and gain research experience. Romero and others recruited the first cohort during the spring 2021 semester.

“ENHANCEMENT” also provides graduate assistantships and connects students to internships, professional development opportunities and spot-hiring events with USDA agencies.

Carlos Andres López ’10

NSF grant supports high-performance computing across state

A $400,000 National Science Foundation grant is helping NMSU change the landscape for high-performance computing throughout New Mexico during the next two years.

High-performance computers can crunch numbers for complex problems such as in artificial intelligence, genetics, economics or ecology, and knowing how to operate HPCs is a highly sought-after skill.

NMSU’s HPC Team includes a group of graduate students, HPC administrators and Diana V. Dugas, principal investigator of the grant and NMSU’s director of instruction and research support, who work together to support the system and its users across the state.

“The grant will give students access to HPC resources, independent of what institution they attend in New Mexico,” Dugas says. “The school or college doesn’t need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in their own HPC in order for their students to gain the knowledge and skills that will make them highly competitive for graduate school or the workplace.”

Minerva Baumann ’13

Shukla receives national Fellow designation

Manoj Shukla, environment soil physics professor, was nominated and elected as a 2020 Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, in recognition of his contributions and achievement in research of soil, water and plant processes.

“I am honored to receive this designation that is the highest recognition bestowed by the society,” he says.

Shukla, who joined the NMSU faculty in 2005, was recognized during the Soil Science Society of America Hall of Fame program during its annual meeting in November 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona.

As the recipient of the Nakayama Research Excellence Professorship for the past six years, Shukla provides research leadership, including as chair of two Western multi-state research projects. His research focus is assessing and modeling the impact of abiotic stresses caused by brackish groundwater irrigation on soil, plants and microbial communities, as well as modeling water, nitrate and energy transport through soil-plant-atmosphere continuum.

Jane Moorman

Posted by grel in Spring 2021

Aggie Bragging Rights

Multiple online programs recognized

Several NMSU programs were ranked on the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online Education Programs list. NMSU tied for 27th in business online bachelor’s programs and tied for 50th in criminal justice online master’s programs. A pair of NMSU’s online graduate programs improved their standings: the master’s in business administration online programs tied for 117th and nursing master’s online programs tied for 130th. NMSU’s online master’s programs in engineering also were recognized and listed in the 74th to 97th range. 

NM FAST program receives Tibbetts Award

The U.S. Small Business Administration recognized the New Mexico Federal and State Technology Partnership Program, housed at NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, with the 2020 Tibbetts Award in recognition of the program’s Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer achievements.

The Tibbetts Award acknowledges exemplary companies, organizations and individuals who demonstrate the goals of the SBIR/STTR programs. NM FAST was one of seven organizations, 38 companies and 14 individuals honored. Established in 2015, NM FAST created a space in New Mexico dedicated to guiding small businesses through SBIR and STTR proposal development programming and assistance, particularly focusing on serving first-time applicants.

Best Global Universities 2021 list features NMSU

The seventh annual U.S. News & World Report Best Global Universities 2021 rankings included NMSU, which tied for 750th among 1,500 institutions in 86 countries. NMSU was listed on two subject rankings: 152nd in space science and tied for 511th in engineering. The rankings are based on indicators measuring academic research performance along with global and regional reputations.

NMSU among top universities for Hispanic

NMSU was recognized on the Top 100 Colleges and Universities for Hispanics list published in the October 2020 issue of The Hispanic Outlook on Education Magazine. NMSU ranked 44th in total enrollment for bachelor’s degrees and 53rd for total enrollment for four-year schools. NMSU also was listed as 57th in total enrollment for master’s degrees. With degrees ranked by major, NMSU was ninth in degrees in agriculture and agriculture operations. NMSU has been an officially designated Hispanic-Serving Institution since 1989.

Posted by grel in Spring 2021

Aggie Milestones

130 years

The first library opened at New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in McFie Hall in 1891, a year after the Board of Regents passed a motion instructing President Hiram Hadley to buy Johnston’s Encyclopedia and Webster’s Dictionary for the library. The college’s first trained librarian was Charlotte A. Baker.

115 years

In 1906, the first agricultural science center was established, bearing the name of its founder Fabian Garcia. NMSU now has a dozen science centers, including three in the Las Cruces area and others as far away as Farmington, Clayton and Artesia.

75 years

The Physical Science Laboratory, a research and development organization better known on campus as PSL, was founded in May 1946. PSL is a leader in sub-orbital platforms, specialized intelligence community support, NASA scientific exploration and experimentation, homeland security technologies, and weapons and countermeasures development testing.

65 years

NMSU’s College of Education was founded in 1956 with William B. O’Donnell serving as its first dean.

20 years

Fueled by a growth in the numbers of Hispanic, Black and American Indian students, a majority of NMSU’s undergraduate student population has represented minority groups since 2001. NMSU is routinely recognized as one of the top universities for minority students.

McFie Hall

Physical Science Laboratory

William B. O'Donnell

Posted by grel in Spring 2021

NMSU Glass Family Research Institute for Early Childhood Studies introduces director

NMSU’s College of Education has added the finishing touches to the Glass Family Research Institute, which seeks to influence policy and practices related to New Mexico’s young children, families and early childhood educators.

The institute focuses on contemporary interdisciplinary research, educational degree offerings, university and community lab schools and collaborative partnerships at the international, national, state and local levels. It was made possible by a generous gift from Smoky Glass Torgerson and her husband, Alan.

In 2021, the institute welcomed director Angela Owens and completed renovations on the institute’s physical location on the ground floor of O’Donnell Hall.

“As the director of the Institute for Early Childhood Studies, Dr. Owens will guide advanced research in early childhood care and education,” Glass Torgerson says. “As a leader in early childhood education, NMSU’s College of Education must prepare our children for success in school and in life. This unique research institute will identify best practices and policies in early childhood education and will collaborate nationally and globally with the education community.”

Owens says, “I look forward to the collaborative opportunities for research that will be completed between our local lab school, interdisciplinary fields within university departments and the community. We will explore questions related to culturally responsive care, pedagogy and instruction, ensuring equity in early childhood education. Pursuing timely research informed with young children, their families, educators and the communities which nurture them in our borderland is one of my most important goals both during this pandemic and post-pandemic.”

Henrietta Williams Pichon, interim dean for the College of Education, says Owens has a genuine interest and enthusiasm for early childhood education and is a great asset to the institute.

“As the premier early childhood research institute in the Southwest, we understand that the earlier we understand children’s educational experiences, the better we are able to ensure that families are getting what they need for educational success and beyond,” Pichon says.

Owens’ research focuses on caregiver experiences with the special education process, early childhood education and inclusivity for all children. She also has experience including teaching in daycare, elementary and special education settings, and as an elementary campus administrator.

“The institute’s research provides an extraordinary opportunity to impact the success of our next generation of youth. It’s so exciting to see NMSU step out as a leader in the development and implementation of early childhood education practices and innovations,” Glass Torgerson says. “Dr. Owens and her colleagues are well prepared for the task.”

Adriana M. Chávez ’19

Owens

Glass Torgerson

Posted by grel in Spring 2021

Martinez appointed to director post at White House Council for Environmental Quality

Born and raised in Taos, New Mexico, Cecilia Martinez ’82 grew up surrounded by the natural beauty of the Southwest and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, nurturing her motivation to protect and care for the environment. Martinez has been a trailblazer for environmental causes for nearly 40 years since she received her master’s degree at NMSU. 

In January 2021, Martinez was named senior director for environmental justice at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Martinez will play a major role in addressing pollution disparities and the acute impact poor and minority neighborhoods often suffer as a result of pollution.

Cecilia Martinez was named senior director for environmental justice at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. As part of her role, she will address pollution disparities and the impact of pollution on poor and minority neighborhoods.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1979, Martinez graduated from NMSU with a master’s degree in public administration. She received her Ph.D. in urban affairs and public policy in 1990 from the University of Delaware.

“My education and New Mexico State University helped prepare me for this important role in the federal government,” Martinez says. “The MPA program provided me with the foundational tools to help effect policies that will address the needs of our most vulnerable communities, and to help fulfill this country’s ideals of democracy and justice.”

Martinez previously served as an associate research professor at the University of Delaware. While teaching, she began working with communities of color in environmental policy work. Martinez co-founded and served as executive director for the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, an organization started to ensure that communities and policy makers have the tools they need to create sustainable energy and environmental policy.

Most recently, Martinez served as the lead for the Council of Environmental Quality Agency Review Team on the Biden-Harris Transition. She also served on the Climate Engagement Advisory Committee and the Transition Advisory Board.

Martinez has led a variety of projects to address sustainable development at the local, state and federal level. Among her many awards, Martinez was named among Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2020.

Amanda Adame ’19

Posted by grel in Spring 2021

Computer science graduate receives Google-CAHSI Dissertation Award

Emmanuel Utreras, whose doctoral research would allow visually impaired children to learn computer programming, recently graduated with his Ph.D. in May 2021 thanks to the Google-Computing Alliance of Hispanic Serving Institutions Dissertation Award.

Utreras, who grew up in Puerto Rico, is among 11 students in the country to receive the award in fall 2020.

CAHSI together with Google Research and the Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in Information Technology and Diversifying Future Leadership in the Professoriate joined together to establish the award to help doctoral students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds complete their dissertations.

After earning his degree in electronics and technology in Puerto Rico, Utreras began his studies in computer science at NMSU in 2014. Three years later, he became a Ph.D. candidate focused on the human-computer interaction field.

“The profession currently faces low representation among the visually impaired population,” Utreras says. “My project will help children with visual disabilities build programming skills and awaken their interest in the computer science field.”

Utreras ultimately wants to return to Puerto Rico as a faculty researcher.

“I want to actively participate in research training programs focused on underrepresented minorities, and encourage students to pursue a doctorate degree in STEM.”

Minerva Baumann ’13

Posted by grel in Spring 2021

Cervantes inducted into NMSU Entrepreneur Hall of Fame at virtual reception

Dino Cervantes ’85, a local farmer and chile processor, was named the 2020 inductee into the NMSU Entrepreneur Hall of Fame by Arrowhead Center and the Office of the Vice President for Research. He was honored at a virtual reception in December 2020.

Cervantes Enterprises, Inc. consists of a chile processing facility and a 1,400-acre farming operation that produces crops such as chile, cotton, pecans and alfalfa.

Cervantes’ father, Orlando, had been growing vegetables but needed a new path when commodity prices dropped in the 1970s. Orlando Cervantes came up with an idea to grow chile peppers, and contacted the McIlhenny Company, producers of Tabasco brand hot sauce, to find out if he could grow peppers for them.

In addition to the farming side of the business, which Dino Cervantes continues to manage, the food processing operation now processes in six minutes what it produced that entire first day in the barn when the operation began. The company sells its products to most major hot sauce, wing sauce and spicy food manufacturers worldwide.

Cervantes provides support to NMSU and mentors young entrepreneurs through Arrowhead Center.

Cassie McClure ’06 ’08

Posted by grel in Spring 2021

‘A’ Mountain Roast brews new collaboration

NMSU and Estas Manos Coffee Roasters launched “A” Mountain Roast in December 2020. “A” Mountain Roast is available for purchase at estasmanoscoffee.com, Estas Manos popup locations and Las Cruces retailers. A portion of the proceeds will support NMSU’s more than 400 student-athletes.

“The opportunity to work with Estas Manos, and the creation of ‘A’ Mountain Roast, is something I have been looking forward to for some time and a natural extension of our collegiate-licensed products,” says Mario Moccia, NMSU’s Director of Athletics.

Estas Manos Coffee Roasters was founded in 2018 by Nicholas Gonzales, along with his business partner, Leandra Gamboa ’13. The grassroots business works to help farmers and farming communities in Latin America through sustainable coffee sourcing and production.

Justin Bannister ’03 ’13

Posted by grel in Spring 2021