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NMSU honors academic excellence at first in-person convocation since 2019

  • By Carlos Andres López
  • 575-646-1955
  • carlopez@nmsu.edu
  • Aug 18, 2021
Headshots of six people
A collage of three photos

For the first time since 2019, New Mexico State University hosted an in-person convocation to kick off a new academic year.

More than 120 faculty and staff members from NMSU gathered on the Las Cruces campus Tuesday, Aug. 17, to mark the start of the fall 2021 semester and celebrate a group of fellow Aggies honored for their accomplishments and contributions to the university. The ceremony also was streamed online for those unable to join in person. 

“Convocation is an important occasion when we pause to set the course for the start of the academic year,” NMSU Provost Carol Parker said. “This fall, I am especially proud to focus our attention on faculty who are exemplars in terms of teaching as well as community engagement, extension and outreach.”

Tuesday’s ceremony marked the start of a new initiative to align faculty awards with each of the four strategic goals in NMSU LEADS 2025 – a change Parker announced in January. 

Parker, who presided over the ceremony with Tara Gray, associate provost for faculty development, director of the NMSU Teaching Academy and convocation coordinator, also introduced a new award to honor outstanding work in extension, outreach and community engagement.

The cohort of award recipients included a half-dozen faculty members and a campus-wide organization.

NMSU’s most distinguished teaching honor – the Robert L. Westhafer Award – went to Mary Ballyk, professor of mathematical sciences, for excellence in teaching. The award recognizes work that enhances student success and social mobility – the first goal in NMSU LEADS 2025.

During the ceremony, Jim Murphy, associate dean for research in the College of Arts of Sciences, recognized Ballyk, who has taught at NMSU since 2000.

“Mary currently acts as the director of First-Year Mathematics, where she strives to make math more enjoyable for all our incoming freshmen,” Murphy said. “Mary views each class meeting as an opportunity to dispel the notion that math cannot be understood and must be endured rather than enjoyed." 

Aggies Without Limits, which brings together students, faculty and community members to assist with the development of local and international communities through sustainable infrastructure and educational opportunities, received the first-ever Extension, Outreach and Community Engagement Award. The new honor recognizes work that amplifies extension and outreach – the third goal in NMSU LEADS 2025.

Since its founding in the mid-2000s, Aggies Without Limits has performed annual service projects in several Latin American countries and New Mexico, building infrastructure to better the lives of those in need. This summer, members of the group traveled to Nicaragua to complete a project they were unable to finish last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

During the ceremony, Lakshmi Reddi, dean of the College of Engineering, recognized Kenny Stevens, Aggie Without Limits adviser and emeritus professor of engineering technology. Stevens co-founded the organization with former NMSU student Dorothy Lanphere.

“Hundreds of NMSU students, staff, faculty and community members from all backgrounds and disciplines have participated in AWL projects to serve others in need,” Reddi said. “Over the years, AWL’s projects have improved the lives of countless people, spread international and local goodwill, and changed the lives and perspectives of students who will now carry on acts of humanity. This group has changed lives all over the world in ways that can’t be measured.” 

Parker and Gray also presided over the Donald C. Roush Awards for Teaching Excellence and the Christmore Awards for Teaching Excellence.

NMSU bestows the Roush awards – named after a former NMSU executive vice president in recognition of his efforts to improve teaching in New Mexico – based on information from students, department heads, deans and community campus directors. Recipients of the Roush awards were Martha Desmond, Regents professor of fishery and wildlife sciences; Avis James, college associate professor of biology; and Anne Semrau, assistant professor of biology at NMSU Grants.

The Christmore awards, named after former accounting department head Patricia Christmore, honor junior tenure-track faculty members for excellence in teaching. The Associated Students of NMSU oversee the selection process. Recipients of the Christmore awards were David Clements, assistant professor of finance, and Steven Sandoval, assistant professor of electrical engineering. 

All award winners received a plaque and a stipend.