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NMSU honors faculty for excellence in teaching at fall 2023 convocation

As New Mexico State University kicked off a new academic year, nearly 200 faculty and staff members gathered on the Las Cruces campus to honor a group of colleagues for excellence in teaching.

NMSU bestowed several prestigious awards during the university’s fall 2023 convocation Tuesday, Aug. 15, at Atkinson Recital Hall. In all, six faculty members from across the NMSU system received awards.

“I particularly want to say how much we appreciate those who are being recognized today,” NMSU interim President Jay Gogue said in his opening remarks. “I salute new faculty, those who have been promoted, and those who will be honored today for teaching awards.”

In separate remarks, Alan Shoho, NMSU’s provost and chief academic officer, said the turnout for Tuesday’s convocation was the largest in recent memory. The gathering included more than 70 new faculty and newly promoted faculty.

“What this further reinforces for me is an excitement that is coming here,” Shoho said. “This is a new dawn for New Mexico State University.”

The first two teaching awards went to Susana Ibarra Johnson and Gain Park, who received the Patricia Christmore Awards for Teaching Excellence. Named after Patricia Christmore, a former department head, the awards honor junior tenure-track faculty members for engaging, inclusive and research-led teaching.

Ibarra Johnson, an assistant professor of bilingual/TESOL education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the School of Teacher Preparation, Administration and Leadership, has devoted her career to improving bilingual students’ education. Her research focuses on biliteracy and translanguaging pedagogy in bilingual education and English language development contexts.

Park, an assistant professor of journalism and media studies, teaches courses on topics that include public relations and strategic communication for social impact. Her research interests include prosocial behavior, interactive/immersive media, and human-computer interaction.

The next three teaching awards went to Paola Bandini, David LoConto and Kim Lopez Gallagher, who received the Donald C. Roush Awards for Teaching Excellence.

NMSU bestows the Roush awards – named after a former NMSU executive vice president in celebration of his efforts to improve teaching in New Mexico – based on information from students, department heads, deans and community campus directors.

Bandini, the Wells-Hatch professor of civil engineering and an associate department head, has 21 years of teaching, research and service experience at NMSU. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in geotechnical engineering and serves as the NMSU lead of the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics.

LoConto, a professor in the Department of Sociology, teaches courses that cover popular culture and social theory. His research focuses on social movements and identity within “Star Trek” – an area he explored in a 2020 book, “Social Movements and the Collective Identity of the Star Trek Fandom: Boldly Going Where No Fans Have Gone Before.”

Lopez Gallagher, a professor at NMSU Alamogordo, teaches courses in government, U.S. history and philosophy. Her teaching philosophy empowers students to actively engage in their own learning.

The final award – Westhafer Award for Excellence in Teaching – went to Betsy Stringam. Named after Robert L. Westhafer, a professor of mathematical sciences, the award recognizes work that enhances student success and social mobility – the first goal in NMSU’s strategic plan.

Stringam, a professor in NMSU’s School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management, has taught at NMSU since 2008. She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses and has become an expert on hotels and resorts. She is also an accomplished researcher and writer, whose work has been published in academic journals and international hospitality industry publications.

All award winners received a plaque and a stipend.