Commencement day for New Mexico Tech

Socorro, NM (KKOB) — After May 11, nearly 240 students at New Mexico Tech will have a new title: graduate. At NMT’s Commencement for the Class of 2024, more than 160 undergraduates, along with 64 master’s graduates and 12 new Ph.D.s, walked across the stage and then turned their tassels to culminate the years of hard work and dedication. The ceremony took place at the Socorro Rodeo and Sports Complex at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

For his first commencement as president, Dr. Mahyar Amouzegar said: “We are immensely proud to celebrate the remarkable achievements of our graduates at this year’s commencement ceremony. As the president of a leading STEM campus, I am inspired by the exceptional ingenuity and determination our students have shown. Their rigorous education has equipped them not only to meet the challenges of tomorrow but also to lead and innovate in their resolution. These graduates are poised to significantly influence the industries they enter and expand the horizons of possibility. We look forward to seeing the ways in which they will transform the world with their skills and creativity.”

On hand to celebrate this momentous day for the graduates were the members of the NMT Board of Regents, faculty, staff, family and friends—all bursting with pride and exhilaration at this milestone for their graduates. Total attendance was estimated at more than 1,000.

The student speaker, chosen from numerous applicants, was Brianna Detsoi, a graduating chemistry major. She began her address in Diné (Navajo) and told the crowd of the hard work and growing pains necessary for a STEM education, but how all along the way, she had the support of key faculty and mentors, and always, her family. A resident of Bloomfield, NM, Detsoi is heading to New Mexico State University for a Ph.D. program in inorganic chemistry in the fall.

The Distinguished Teaching Award was handed to Dr. David Meier, a physics associate professor, whose students spoke about his ability to explain hard concepts and make everything make sense. The nominating letters emphasized his availability, his ability to engage and inspire them, and his willingness to help them succeed. Dr. Meier came to Tech’s faculty in 2008, after post-doctoral research at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. His Ph.D. in astrophysics is from University of California, Los Angeles.

“It is a great honor to receive this award,” said Dr. Meier. “Teaching is such a vital and rewarding part of being a professor. It is wonderful to have the hard work and dedication recognized. All the credit goes to the students and the material for making it so fun to teach.”

A posthumous Ph.D. was conferred on the late Joe Zinecker who, after a long career in engineering, was well on his way to a doctorate in Geology when he died in December 2023.

Prestigious student awards, chosen by the faculty for outstanding students, are the Brown Medal, the Founders, the Langmuir, and the Cramer awards, which come with a check and a plaque. Five recipients were surprised with the news at the ceremony. 

The Brown Medal was given to Juliana Barstow, a double major in Physics and Mechanical Engineering. Barstow has excelled in mentoring and teaching assistance, as well as research and publishing. She has been accepted to MIT for graduate work.

The Founders Award was handed to Brenden Herkenhoff, who completed his undergraduate degree and Ph.D. at NMT. Herkenhoff’s pioneering research not only has been recognized academically but also has captured the attention of major global media outlets such as National Geographic, The Washington Post, and The New York Post. His work has contributed to 19 published conference papers and two journal papers. He founded RadiantAero, a company that aims to use his patent-pending technology to revolutionize aerospace efficiency. Numerous accolades include the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium Fellowship for two consecutive years.

The Langmuir Award for an outstanding publication was presented to Tatiana Rodriquez, graduating this term with a Ph.D. in Physics. Her winning paper is titled “Radio Continuum and Water Maser Observations of the High-mass Protostar IRAS 19035+0641 A,” and appeared this year in the Astrophysical Journal

The two Cramer Awards went to Mariam Koanda, a Mineral Engineering major, and Joseph Nickerson, a Civil Engineering major. 

Koanda has excelled in academic and extracurricular pursuits, showcasing exceptional dedication and leadership. Whether leading group projects, participating in department events, or mentoring fellow students, Koanda has proven to be a positive influence within the academic community.

Nickerson’s nominator said, “He is the type of civil engineering student we see at NMT just once every 10 years. Every single homework submitted by Joseph is like an engineering report by an experienced professional.”

At the end of the ceremony, the confetti cannons fired and “The Imperial March” from Star Wars played while the graduates recessed to celebrate with their families. The crowd was welcomed back to the New Mexico Tech campus for lunch, photographs, and a dessert reception hosted by the President’s Office.