Nine women faculty members at The University of New Mexico have been selected for the 2023 Women in STEM awards. 

Award recipients will explore how to reduce the number of Native American students with dyslexia, why some amphibians are more susceptible to diseases than others, and how to position UNM to be a leader in seismic imaging and environmental monitoring, along with other topics.

Now in their eighth year, the awards have allocated $500,000 to 69 women at UNM.

The 2023 winners are:  

Lisa Barrow, an assistant professor in Biology; Jessica Feezell, an associate professor in Political Science; Adriana Molina Garzon, an assistant professor in Public Administration; Kathy Kambic, an associate professor in Landscape Architecture; Sunaina Shenoy, an assistant professor in Special Education; Erin Wilkinson, an associate professor in Linguistics; Lindsay Worthington, an associate professor in Earth and Planetary Sciences; Rosa Vallejos Yopán, an associate professor in Linguistics and Heng Zuo, an assistant professor in Mechanical Engineering.

The awards are hosted by Advance at UNM in collaboration with the UNM Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of the Vice President for Research. Advance is an NSF-initiated program at UNM to promote women faculty, particularly faculty of color in STEM, and to create a supportive campus climate for everyone.

Advance Director Julia Fulghum said the award committee was inspired by the innovative proposals that were submitted.

“This year’s awardees admirably demonstrate the breadth of research on campus, and I look forward to learning about their progress,” she said.

“We’re delighted to continue our collaboration with Academic Affairs and the OVPR on these awards. The selection committee always enjoys reading the proposals,” Fulghum said.

UNM Provost James Holloway said the recipients represent important research being done at the university.

“UNM is home to many amazing scholars, and this year’s Women in STEM award recipients demonstrate this.  Their work is advancing the limits of human knowledge, providing unparalleled educational experience for students, and advancing New Mexico,” he said.

Funding for the Women in STEM Awards is from an anonymous gift made to UNM to support research by, and professorships for, women faculty in science, technology, engineering, and math. Income from the gift is used to help women assistant and associate STEM professors at UNM to establish new lines of research and to develop research collaborations. 

Support also comes from the UNM Office of the Vice President for Research. 

“The Advance program has again selected an outstanding slate of proposals that are likely to have a huge impact on research activities at UNM,” said Ellen Fisher, Vice President for Research.

“I am especially pleased to see how many of them are focused on key areas of strategic priority, including a range of topics tied to resilience and climate change in New Mexico.”

The selected proposals are: 

  • Barrow’s project, “Comparative population genomics and immunogenetics of North American water frogs,” which aims to uncover the roles of host genetics and environmental variation on disease outcomes by comparing patterns of genomic variation across the ranges of four widespread frog species.

Barrow said the work will look at one of the big questions in amphibian evolution and conservation, which is why some species are more susceptible to pathogens than others.

“This award is exciting because it will enable new directions in our lab and support graduate and undergraduate projects. We are excited to investigate variation at an immune-specific region in a comparative framework to better understand differences in host-pathogen dynamics among species,” she said.

  • Feezell’s project, “Media Trust, Mobile Technologies, and the Rise of Citizen Journalists,” which will examine the supply and demand sides of citizen journalism and the consequences of this trend on public opinion and representation in the United States.

Feezell said the research comes as Americans’ trust in the traditional forms of media is at an all-time low.

“The public is turning away from traditional sources of news and toward independent, niche-serving “citizen journalists” found on social media,” she said.

“I’m so thankful to have the support of Advance and UNM to pursue new lines of research. My goal is to leverage this travel grant into a successful collaboration to further our understanding of computer-mediated communication, social media, and political behavior,” Feezell said.

  • Molina Garzon’s project, “Expanding Healthcare Access through Drone Technology and Its Welfare Effects on Rural Households,” which aims to understand the impacts of drone technology that supports access to medical supplies and facilitates the delivery of public health services in rural areas of Ghana. 

This project includes exploring the effects on household welfare such as health, education, and productivity. It will also examine public-private partnerships that support the use of this technology. 

“As an early career scholar, I am very grateful for the support from the Advance at UNM Women in Stem Award,” Molina Garzon said. “This award enables me to conduct field data collection, prepare evidence to seek external funding in the future and strengthen networking opportunities around the issue of providing health services to remote rural areas, an issue of broad relevance with the potential for interdisciplinary collaborations.” 

  • Kambic’s project, “Water Scarcity: Variability along the Rio Grande,” which examines the history and future of the key Southwest river. The project “will record the river’s contemporary ecological and cultural conditions, from understanding flows to how power is wielded by those controlling the river,” Kambic said.

“It will explore the infrastructure of this over-allocated border river that was changed for a climate that no longer exists and will examine our options for its future economic, social, and environmental stability,” she said, adding that the river “has been collected, distributed, destroyed, and rebuilt to suit the needs and desires of people within its basins.” 

Kambic said the award can lead to other research on the region’s water supplies. 

“This grant is a big step in the development of this long-term project to understand the landscapes of the Rio Grande. I look forward to further developing this work on rivers in the American West and sharing it with our students.”  

  • Shenoy’s project, “Multi-Layered System of Supports (MLSS) in a Native American School: Reducing Risk for Dyslexia,” which will set up an evidence-based tiered model of reading assessment and intervention at a Native American school site. 

“This will in turn improve the reading outcomes of all students, including those with dyslexia,” Shenoy said.

“I am very grateful to Advance at UNM for this award because it will help me continue my work at an underserved school site. I plan to use this opportunity to customize reading assessment and intervention for teachers based on their individual needs in their classrooms. They will also be provided with continued professional development and learning communities that support their teaching practices specifically as it relates to interventions for students at-risk and identified with dyslexia,” she said.

  • Worthington’s project, “Positioning UNM for Innovations in Seismic Imaging and Environmental Monitoring in New Mexico,” which will fund a pilot data acquisition program that would simultaneously image an unmapped fault and record signals from tiny earthquakes at a field site east of Socorro, NM. 

The work would rely on recent instrumentation acquisitions and new collaborations within the University of New Mexico ASPIRE center and scientists at New Mexico Tech for the study of infrequent, but potentially large, earthquakes in the Rio Grande Rift. It also would develop tools for seismic environmental monitoring that would contribute to hydrogen storage potential in the state.

According to Worthington’s proposal, “the new instrument pool primes UNM seismologists to pursue emerging opportunities for seismic imaging and environmental monitoring in New Mexico, with numerous potential applications to water resources, climate and energy transitions, and seismic hazard.”

  • Wilkinson’s project, which involves the creation of an African Sign Languages database. 

Wilkinson will work with Angoua Tano at the Université Félix Houphouët-Boigny (Côte d’Ivoire) to build a Langue des Signes d’Afrique (LSAF) Internet corpus that will be accessible to the public. It will have a special interest in the variation of sign language spoken in Côte d’Ivoire.

The database will be open to linguists and sign language researchers as well as sign language students, teachers, interpreters, and other community members who want to use spontaneous LSAF discourse for their own agendas.

Wilkinson hopes the project will shed new light on language change in a majority signed language, ASL, in terms of language import, contact, and divergence which are poorly understood in signed language linguistics literature. The project also aims to strengthen inter-university collaboration between UNM and UFHB, bridge language documentation and corpus research as well as sign language research.

“The outcomes of the travel award will also advance our research program in language variation and change in signed languages, especially ASL as a colonial language, in a multilingual, multicultural context like Côte d’Ivoire and New Mexico (since there continues to be deeply-held beliefs that signers are not multilingual),” she said. 

  • Vallejos Yopán’s project, “Attention orientation and syntactic choices in the Amazon,” which will investigate the extent to which attention affects real-time discourse choices.

The work specifically explores the linguistic strategies employed in Secoya, an indigenous Amazonian language, to orient interlocutors towards specific pieces of information in the environment while ignoring competing details.

Vallejos Yopán said the project contributes to the development of experimental fieldwork in remote locations and the unique challenges such work brings.

“Over the last 20 years, I have conducted several interconnected projects driven by a desire to find a balance between my academic work and my commitment to the communities with whom I work,” Vallejos Yopán said.

“Given the extractivist history of our field, for researchers of minoritized languages it is of utmost importance to approach our work from a collaborative framework to eradicate research practices that reinforce colonial mindsets. This award will allow me to continue to carry out projects and create language resources in collaboration with community members,” she said.

  • Zuo’s project, “Characterization of Grating Embedded Mirrors for Heliostat Canting Metrology,” which explores ways to improve the heliostat technologies used in solar energy production.

According to Zuo’s proposal, “In concentrating solar-thermal power (CSP) systems, heliostats consisting of an array of mirrors, called facets, are used to reflect sunlight toward a receiver on top of a solar tower to produce renewable thermal and electrical energy.” 

The work will explore the use of ultrafast laser-written diffraction gratings embedded within glass heliostat mirrors to enable new techniques for more accurate measurement of heliostat canting errors. Correcting such errors in alignment can cause more energy to be produced.