NMSU faculty, staff honored at 2013 fall convocation

Writer: Darrell Pehr

Convocation awardees

Left to right: NMSU Fall 2013 Convocation awardees Steven Stochaj, Wenxin Liu, Rani Alexander, John Wright, Debra Knapp, Executive Vice President and Provost Dan Howard (who announced the awards), Pierre Orelus, Bernd Leinauer, Kristin Stair, Tiziana Giorgi, Beth Armstead and Greg Armfield. (NMSU Photo)

The achievements of top faculty members and staff were celebrated today at New Mexico State University’s fall convocation ceremony. Each fall and spring, convocation serves as an opportunity to begin the semester with a focus on excellence.

“Convocation is an important time to pause and honor the tremendous achievements of our faculty and staff,” said Executive Vice President and Provost Daniel J. Howard. “In research, community outreach and student support, these awardees are leading some of the top work being done at NMSU. They bring outstanding creativity, dedication and hard work to our campus community.”

John B. Wright, professor of geography in the College of Arts and Sciences, was awarded the 2013 Westhafer Award for Excellence in Teaching and Research. Westhafer Awards are given in alternating years for excellence in teaching and excellence in research and creative activity.

For the past 23 years, Wright has been a very popular faculty member at NMSU whose classes are always filled. He is a world traveler who has visited more than 70 countries in Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania. He is a recognized expert on the cultural, historical and environmental geography of New Mexico and the American West. Wright is the author of five books, 70 articles and 71 technical reports. His book “Rocky Mountain Divide: Selling and Saving the West” earned him the J.B. Jackson Prize from the Association of American Geographers and his book “Saving the Ranch” is known among geographers, planners and land conservation specialists nationwide.

Four faculty members were selected for the University Research Council Awards for Exceptional Achievements in Creative Scholarly Activity. Early Career Awards were given to Wenxin Liu, Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering, and Pierre Wilbert Orelus, Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education.

During the past 10 years, Liu has been working on various control and optimization problems in power systems at both the system and component levels. He has successfully established an externally funded, independent research program – supported by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, the Office of Naval Research and the California Energy Commission – with $1.2 million in funding. He founded the Smart Microgrid and Renewable Technology Research Lab, where an experimental platform for research on Smart Grids is underway. Once established, this program will be one of a very few university programs with the capability of power hardware-in-the-loop simulation.

Orelus is the past chair of the Post-colonial and Education Special Interest Group and currently the co-chair of the Paulo Freire Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association. He has received several awards and fellowships, including the NMSU Dean of Education Award for Excellence in Research. His research interests include post-colonial and immigrant studies; language, race and gender studies.

Orelus has written numerous articles and has authored and co-authored nine books. His most recent books include “Whitecentricism and Linguoracism Exposed,” “Radical Voices of Democratic Schooling: Exposing neoliberal inequalities” and “The Race Talk: Identity politics, multiracialism, and the hegemony of whiteness.”

Distinguished Career Awards were given to Tiziana Giorgi, Department of Mathematical Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Bernd Leinauer, Department of Extension Plant Sciences in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Giorgi conducts research in partial differential equations with applications to materials science, including liquid crystals, superconductivity and porous media, which is supported by the National Science Foundation. She has served on numerous departmental committees, including the Undergraduate Curriculum and Teaching Committee, Majors and Minor Committee and the Graduate Studies Committee. She has played a leading role in revising the undergraduate mathematics majors program, and she has served as chair of the Mathematics Colloquium and Search Committees.

Leinauer’s current Extension and research program focuses on developing water management strategies for turf areas aimed at reducing the amount of potable water used for irrigation. Since joining NMSU, Bernd has secured more than $1.6 million in competitive and industry grants, and more than $500,000 in unrestricted gifts to support the Turfgrass Extension and Research program.

Leinauer has lectured and presented around the world on turfgrass water conservation, irrigation efficiency, turfgrass selection, rootzone repellency and soil modification.

He has been recognized for his work many times over, including the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ Service Award in 2005, the USDA-CSREES’ Outstanding Integrated Program Water Resources Team Award in 2007 and in 2012 he received the college’s Mobley Family Endowed Distinguished Research Award.

The awards are presented by the University Research Council to NMSU faculty and staff in recognition of exceptional research and/or other creative scholarly efforts at NMSU.

Chosen as the 2013 Scholar/Artist of the Year was Debra Knapp, of the Department of Human Performance, Dance and Recreation in the College of Education.

Recipients of the award must have a scholarly record extending more than 10 years, be producing scholarly materials or other creative works, have documented in-depth study of their subject area and be capable of communicating ideas and knowledge to selected arts groups.

Selected for the 2014-2015 M. Eugene Sundt Honors Professorship was Rani Alexander of the Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences.

The M. Eugene Sundt Honors Professorship position is a rotating chair that is held for two years. It is awarded to an NMSU professor who promotes innovative teaching ideas and provides unique, experience-based classes.

Two faculty members – Greg Armfield, in the Department of Communication Studies, and Kristin Stair, in the Department of Agricultural and Extension Education – were selected for the Patricia Christmore Faculty Teaching Award. Named for Patricia Christmore, former accounting department head, this annual award recognizes and rewards superb junior tenure-track faculty members for excellence in teaching.

Selected for the Excellence in Academic Advising Award were Beth Armstead, vice president for Student Services at NMSU Grants, and Steven Stochaj, professor of electrical and computer engineering. The Excellence in Academic Advising Award recognizes faculty and professional academic advisers for their outstanding achievement and service to NMSU students. Candidates are nominated by students.


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