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NMSU students win awards, scholarships at the Great Minds in STEM conference

Nicholas Grijalva is one of more than 30 New Mexico State University students who participated in the Great Minds in Stem conference this fall. He was named a Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (CAHSI) scholar and will receive a scholarship. He was also recognized as the graduate CAHSI advocate for the Southwest Region. NMSU is a founding member of the organization, which serves to accelerate the achievements of Hispanics in computing.

“To me, being a CAHSI advocate is to promote growth and belonging to students in the field of computer science,” said Grijalva, who is graduating with a master’s degree in computer science next spring. “We promote student success by providing opportunities for students to engage with other students, build connections and learn important skills like building a professional portfolio and getting ready for graduate school/research. With this continued support, we hope to improve the diversity of the computer science field while equipping its students with valuable information, confidence and skills.”

“The GMiS conference is specifically a conference for underrepresented students in STEM,” said Raena Cota, program manager in the Computer Science Department and connector for the Southwest Region of CAHSI. “The conference is not only for computer science students but at least half of the students who attend the conference are computer science students, because of the longtime partnership between GMiS and CAHSI.”

Other NMSU computer science students who were recognized as CAHSI Scholars and Advocates included Sarah Diaz, who was recognized as a scholar and Marco Martinez, who was recognized as an undergraduate advocate. In 2022, NMSU had three computer science students selected as CAHSI Scholars: Avery Lee, Kayla Wilson and Renee Catanach.

Students showcased their talents in various competitions at the conference, with an award-winning performance in the Cybersecurity Hackathon. NMSU students earned first place in the novice category and second place in the advanced category. The winning novice team included computer science majors Benjamin Widner, and Cassandra Ganska, along with cyber security major Horacio Gonzalez.

Meanwhile, the advanced category saw another award-winning performance from the all-woman team of computer science undergraduate Sarah Diaz with Kayla Wilson and Breanna Widner, who are both computer science graduate students.

Nationwide, women represent approximately 20% of bachelor’s degrees awarded in computer science. For the GMiS conference, 37% of the NMSU computer science students supported to attend were women.

In the Data Analytics challenge, Jason Miller secured third place as Tuan Le, a computer science faculty member, lead the challenge.

Terra Martinez, an NMSU Fisheries and Wildlife major, took home the top prize in the poster competition. Martinez currently works as a field technician for NMSU and assists graduate students in data collection.

“As a fisheries and wildlife student, winning the poster competition was beneficial to me because my degree is sometimes overlooked as a STEM major,” Martinez said. “It was meaningful to connect with other individuals from areas of engineering and math that related to the research I am currently working on. I feel as though there are a large number of connections that I have made that could also lead to potential collaboration on research.”

As part of the conference, students are recognized as GMiS STEM Scholars and awarded scholarships from tech industry partners. Maria Morelia Enriquez Martinez, an NMSU mechanical and aerospace engineering student, was awarded a scholarship from Cummins, Inc., the only NMSU student selected for the honor in 2023.

At the end of the conference, students attended a career and graduate school fair. At this event, NMSU students were invited to interview for summer internships and jobs with more than 50 tech companies including Google, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman. Most computer science students leave the career fair with at least one offer or follow-up interview, with many students, especially those graduating soon, receiving multiple offers.

Of the students that attended, 17 were National Science Foundation, S-STEM scholars pursuing degrees in computing fields. Adan Delval, program manager, leads the S-STEM program at NMSU.

“We are committed to fostering a sense of inclusion, comradery and community for our students within the S-STEM scholarship program and computing disciplines,” Delval said. “My primary objective is to mentor and guide them to successful graduation with their computing degrees.  I am very dedicated to motivating S-STEM scholars to persist in their academic pursuits and to pursue their professional passions. So, for me it's about encouragement.”

Both Cota and Delval encourage underrepresented computer science students to be active in as many computer science programs as possible while at the university. Programs like CAHSI, S-STEM and the GMiS conference help to expand the students’ knowledge base and provide access to career growth opportunities. Connecting with others in the field and developing confidence in their abilities can help motivate students to complete their degrees and pursue jobs in high-demand computer science-related industries.