After hours of combing through countless nominations for outstanding alumni and longtime Lobos, The University of New Mexico Alumni Association awards committee has selected the recipients of its 2024 UNM Alumni Awards. They include Raven Chacon, Sally Marquez, Harold Lavender, Rafael Martinez, Michelle Hernandez, Brian Levant, Felisha Begay, Maria Szasz and Thomas Resta.

During and after their time at UNM, these recipients have positively impacted the university, their respective fields, and communities worldwide. Receiving an award is one of the University’s highest honors, and these award recipients exemplify the continuing growth, diversity, and strength in our communities.

The award recipients will be honored at a reception and awards dinner on Feb. 28, 2024. For additional information, contact Victoria Lujan at 505-277-5808 or



Raven Chacon

Raven Chacon, Indigenous composer & artist (01), James F. Zimmerman Award

James F. Zimmerman Award: Given to an alumnus/a of The University of New Mexico who has made a significant contribution, bringing fame and honor to The University of New Mexico or the State of New Mexico.

Raven Chacon is a composer, performer and installation artist from Fort Defiance, Navajo Nation. As a solo artist, Chacon has exhibited, performed, or had works performed at LACMA, The Renaissance Society, San Francisco Electronic Music Festival, REDCAT, Vancouver Art Gallery, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Borealis Festival, SITE Santa Fe, Chaco Canyon, Ende Tymes Festival, and The Kennedy Center. As a member of Postcommodity from 2009-2018, Chacon co-created artworks presented at the Whitney Biennial, Documenta 14, Carnegie International 57, and the 2-mile-long land art installation Repellent Fence.

A recording artist over 22 years, Chacon has appeared on more than 80 releases on various national and international labels. In 2022, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Music for his composition Voiceless Mass. His 2020 Manifest Destiny opera Sweet Land, co-composed with Du Yun, received critical acclaim from The LA Times, The New York Times, and The New Yorker and was named 2021 Opera of the Year by the Music Critics Association of North America.

Since 2004, he has mentored over 300 high school Native composers in writing new string quartets for the Native American Composer Apprenticeship Project (NACAP). Chacon is the recipient of the United States Artists Fellowship in Music, The Creative Capital Award in Visual Arts, The Native Arts and Cultures Foundation artist fellowship, the American Academy’s Berlin Prize for Music Composition, the Bemis Center’s Ree Kaneko Award, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award (2022), the Pew Fellow-in-Residence (2022), and is a 2023 MacArthur Fellow.

Chacon’s solo artworks are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and National Museum of the American Indian, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Getty Research Institute, the University of New Mexico Art Museum, and various private collections.



Sally Marquez

Sally Marquez, executive director, New Mexico Activities Association (’83), Bernard S. Rodey Award

Bernard S. Rodey Award: Recognizes those whose leadership efforts have contributed significantly to the field of education. The recipient may or may not be an alum of the University.

Sally Marquez has served in secondary education for 40 years and has been the New Mexico Activities Association (NMAA) executive director since September 2012. She began her career at the NMAA in 2004 as associate director and was promoted to assistant executive director in July 2011. The NMAA comprises 160 high schools and 200 middle schools, with 70,000 participants in sports and activities.

Before joining the NMAA, Marquez held various positions in New Mexico, Virginia, and Texas, including mathematics teacher, dean of students, assistant principal, and personnel director. Marquez coached girls’ and boys’ basketball, track and field, and soccer among her coaching positions. 

A graduate of Manzano High School, where she was a three-sport athlete (volleyball, basketball, track, and field), Marquez earned her bachelor’s degree from The University of New Mexico’s College of Education in December of 1983 with endorsements to teach mathematics, and physical education and health education. Marquez earned her master’s degree in education administration from Virginia Tech University in 1993. She was a four-year women’s basketball team member at the University of New Mexico and was inducted into the New Mexico Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.

Marquez served four years on the National Federation of State High School Association (NFHS) Board of Directors with a one-year term as president in 2022-23. She was the first Hispanic Female to serve in this capacity in the 105 years of the NFHS’s existence. She is a leader nationally among the other 50 State Associations.

As the executive director of the NMAA, Marquez is credited with creating and implementing New Mexico’s Sportsmanship Initiative, Compete with Class, along with the addition of Girls Wrestling, Powerlifting, and Esports. She was instrumental during COVID-19, working tirelessly with the Governor’s Office, the Public Education Department, and the Superintendents to ensure that all students could compete in sports and activities within the restrictions placed upon the schools.



Harold Lavender

Harold Lavender, director of Business and Financial Development, CNM Ingenuity (’69,’75), Erna S. Fergusson Award

Erna S. Fergusson Award: Recognizes exceptional accomplishments and/or commitment or distinguished service to The University of New Mexico. The recipient may or may not be an alum of the University. This award was formerly named the Award of Distinction.

An entrepreneur and business leader, Harold Lavender graduated from The University of New Mexico in 1969. He was commissioned in the United States Air Force and had charge of more than 500 people and numerous base facilities in Idaho and Florida. After completing his active duty, he earned a law degree from The University of New Mexico School of Law in 1975 and practiced law. Encouraged to become a commodity trader on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) by a fellow UNM graduate, Larry Berg, he moved to Chicago in 1976. Taking a risk, he bought a membership on the Chicago Board of Trade--the world’s largest commodity exchange--and took on debt to develop a business as a commodity trader. During 34 years as a member and floor trader, Lavender traded agricultural and financial futures.  He experienced the ups and downs of world financial markets repeatedly in the rough pits of the CBOT--quick mental number computation became a mainstay for monitoring costs and prices minute to minute to keep up with the pace of the fast-moving markets. 

Lavender was elected to the CBOT Board of Directors where he served two terms as a director and two terms on the Executive Committee that had oversight for its $135 million annual operating budget. As a CBOT leader, he served on many essential exchange Committees. He was a spokesperson for CBOT for interviews with CNBC, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, industry publications, and public speaking. He represented CBOT in New York, Washington, D.C., Hong Kong, Europe, and Australia. He mentored several hundred young risk-taking men and women seeking to be pit traders and was a guest lecturer at the Sloan School at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. In 2010, he retired from pit trading and returned to New Mexico, his home state. 

His extensive knowledge of finance and investments, his ability to sustain success in one of the toughest industries in the world, and his extensive involvement in the leadership in one of the world’s most competitive institutions of entrepreneurship--the Chicago Board of Trade--transferred into a deep interest in New Mexico’s business and growth. Upon his return to New Mexico, he rejoined the legal profession and served as counsel for Modrall Sperling, New Mexico Law Group, and Montgomery and Andrews. He taught classes about futures and finance at UNM Anderson School of Management. The New Mexico Legislature appointed him to the New Mexico State Investment Council and was Chairman of the Investment Committee. He participated actively as the SIC established transparency and a professional approach to investing. During his tenure on the SIC, the Funds grew from $13 billion to over $50 billion.

Parallel to his service on the New Mexico State Investment Council, Lavender became active with the UNM Alumni Association Board of Directors. He served as its president, a member of its Executive, Finance, and Investment Committees, and UNM Lobos for Legislation. He served on the UNM School of Law Alumni Board for eight years and also taught finance classes at UNM Anderson School of Business. He participates in the Albuquerque Economic Forum and Rotary International. Other community service includes Sandia Foundation Trustee and Chairman of its Investment Committee and Albuquerque Community Foundation Impact Investment Committee and Finance Committee. Lavender continues to focus on startup companies, working for CNM Ingenuity as director of Business and Finance Development. His support and friendliness engage entrepreneurs in developing their ideas and business models.

Married for 54 years to the former Judith Kennedy from Gallup, their two children, Jay Lavender and Meredith Lavender, are writers and producers for film and television in the entertainment industry. Harold and Judith have three young grandchildren. If you are looking for Harold on any sunny day over 50 degrees, he is on the fairway practicing or playing golf--his lifelong passion.



Raphael "Rafe" Martinez

Raphael “Rafe” Martinez, executive director, Albuquerque Sign Language Academy (’92, ’94 ), Zia Award

Zia Award: Honors New Mexico residents with a UNM degree who have distinguished themselves in any one or more of the following categories – philanthropic endeavors, public office, service to the University, community, volunteer activities, and/or business professional fields, or educational fields.

Raphael “Rafe” Martinez is a 30+ year educator who has experienced a variety of leadership opportunities. As a former classroom English teacher, former head coach of multiple sports teams, former dean of students, and currently the head of school for the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy (ASLA), Rafe has grown to understand and embrace the importance of strong, effective leadership when in pursuit of organizational excellence. 

Taking several profound lessons from his diverse leadership experiences, Rafe has led the ASLA to national acclaim, being regarded as a national leader in deaf and special education reform. The ASLA is the only state-certified ASL-English Dual Language School in the United States serving deaf and hearing students through a highly inclusive and supportive learning program.

Additionally, the ASLA works closely with several national post-secondary partners in continually developing its innovative program. Partners include Penn State University, University of Minnesota, University of Arizona, New Mexico Highlands University, McLean Hospital (Harvard), and, of course, the one and only University of New Mexico.



Michelle Hernandez

Michelle Hernandez, shareholder/attorney, Modrall Sperling Law Firm (’93), Zia Award

Born in Albuquerque, Michelle Hernandez spent her early childhood in Taos, N.M., her family’s ancestral home.  Later, she attended APS schools and graduated from Del Norte High School. She went to TVI and transferred to UNM, where she was a Trailblazer, Student Special Events Director, and a founding member of the Hispanic Honor Society. She graduated from UNM Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Political Science in 1993. She continued her education at UCLA Law School, where she was a member of the La Raza Law Students Association and received the Lubric Pioneering Women and the Law Scholarship. 

Hernandez began her legal career 27 years ago as a judicial law clerk at the New Mexico Supreme Court serving Chief Justice Joseph F. Baca and then joined the Modrall Sperling law firm. A member of the litigation department, she is now an equity partner and the first Hispanic woman to serve on Modrall Sperling’s Executive Committee and chairs the Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee. 

An active UNM alum, Hernandez chaired the homecoming committee, was a founding member of the Young Alumni Association, served on the UNM Presidential Search Committee, and was a board member for the Alumni Association and the UNM Medical Group. She also has served in leadership roles on numerous other boards, including regional president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, vice chair for the Hispanic National Cultural Center Foundation, president of the New Mexico Defense Lawyers Association, and chair of the Board of Directors for the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce.

She has received numerous recognitions, including Best Lawyers in America - Health Care Law “Lawyer of the Year,” Southwest Super Lawyers - “Top 25 New Mexico Super Lawyers,” Albuquerque Journal Women in Business Winners, Albuquerque Business First, Diverse Business Leader and Woman of Influence and American Bar Association as “100 Women Who Inspire Us.” Of her accomplishments, Michelle is most proud of raising her two daughters, Mia (20), a sophomore at Loyola University - Chicago, and Lena (16), a junior at St. Pius X High School. 



Brian Levant

Brian Levant, director, writer and producer (’74), Lobo Award

Lobo Award: Presented to a UNM alum/a who has given outstanding personal service to the university or whose career achievement reflects on the University.

In his sixth decade in the entertainment industry, Brian Levant is a writer/producer of legendary comedy series and has directed many hit films.  At 23, Levant began his writing career on Happy Days, then television’s top series, eventually becoming the series showrunner, a capacity he also served in the series’ spin-off, Mork & Mindy, starring Robin Williams. After winning the Cable Ace Award for Directing in a Comedy Series for his long-running Leave it to Beaver revival, Levant turned his attention to writing and directing feature films.

His movies include the original Beethoven, the Steven Spielberg-produced box office juggernaut The Flintstones, the holiday classic Jingle All the Way starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Are We There Yet? with Ice Cube, and the 2010 Jackie Chan vehicle, The Spy Next Door, which was shot in Albuquerque. Levant’s films have over two billion dollars in gross revenues and have spawned 11 sequels.

Nearly every year since the late 1970s, Levant has lectured and worked with film students at his alma mater, The University of New Mexico. From 2017 through 2023, Levant returned to UNM to teach his “Sitcom Boot Camp” class. There, he led a small group of students in creating, writing, and rewriting an original network-style comedy and seeing it performed for an audience—in just 42 hours of class over six weeks. He has taught the same class as an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona for six years. Levant has made dozens of appearances at Columbia College’s Semester in L.A. program, Arizona State University, George R.R. Martin’s Stagecoach Foundation, Long Beach State, USC, and The American Film Institute.

Levant and his wife (and former UNM student) Alison have three adult children, one grandchild, and four Newfoundlands.



Falisha Begay

Falisha Begay, commissioned corps officer and pharmacist (’16), Inspirational Young Alumnus Award

Inspirational Young Alumnus Award: Recognizes significant contributions by an individual, whether through professional achievement or community service. Recipients demonstrate a commitment to excellence in post-academic life and an ongoing commitment to professional work, research, multicultural relations, and/or volunteerism while being recognized as an emerging leader.

Lieutenant (LT) Falisha Begay, PharmD, MSHI, BCPS, is an active duty Commissioned Corps Officer and Pharmacist of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS). She is currently detailed to the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of the Army as part of the USPHS Public Health Emergency Response Strike Team (PHERST).

Lt. Begay holds a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from The University of New Mexico College of Pharmacy and a Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) with concentrations in Health Data Science and Leadership from the University of Illinois-Chicago. She has focused on promoting access to care in rural and underserved areas throughout her career through enhanced medication and chronic disease management as a Board-Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist. She has also actively participated in public health initiatives, including local and national COVID-19 responses and national deployments.

Additionally, Lt. Begay is dedicated to mentoring Indigenous youth in underserved areas and promoting higher education and health professions among Indigenous communities.



Maria Szasz

Maria Szasz, Ph.D. (’07), Faculty Teaching Award

Faculty Teaching Award: Recognizes outstanding teaching and service to students. The recipient is a faculty member currently employed full-time in any school or college of the University.

Maria Szasz is a second-generation UNM Faculty member who teaches Theatre History at the UNM Honors College. She received a Ph.D. in English from UNM, with a theatre emphasis. Her publications include Brian Friel and America (Glasnevin Press) and The Irish Repertory Theatre Company: Celebrating Thirty-Five Years Off-Broadway (forthcoming, Palgrave Macmillan, late 2024).  

She serves on the Honors College Justice, Equity, Accessibility, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEADI) committee and the fun committee. Her contributions to the JEADI committee include creating an in-house distinction for students who take courses focused on JEADI issues, which the committee is currently championing.

She is committed to bettering the institution and making it accessible to a diverse student body. Students often comment that the knowledge they gain and the experiences they share in her classroom go unmatched across our campus.



Thomas Resta

Thomas Resta, professor and senior associate dean (’95), Research Award

Research Award: Recognizes outstanding research at the University of New Mexico. The recipient is currently conducting research full-time in any school or college of the University.

Thomas Resta received his Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in 1995 and continued at UNM on an NIH postdoctoral fellowship until 1998. Following postdoctoral training, he joined the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology as a research assistant professor in 1998 and a tenure-track assistant professor in 2000 following a national search. He was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2006 and professor in 2012.

As senior associate dean for Research Education, Resta has led innovative programs in research education, including undergraduate, MS and Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences, MD/Ph.D., and the Master of Science in Clinical Research programs at the School of Medicine. In collaboration with the Central Campus Office of the Vice President for Research, he recently developed a new Postdoctoral Affairs program that provides improved support, oversight, and campus-wide training opportunities for postdoctoral scholars. Most recently, Resta was appointed Interim Senior Associate Dean for Research at the School of Medicine, where he leads faculty research education and support programs.

Resta has built a highly successful NIH-funded research program to understand the mechanisms of pulmonary hypertension associated with chronic obstructive lung diseases, sleep apnea, and high-altitude exposure. His research has appreciated broad-based recognition by the national and international scientific community, exemplified by service on a variety of NIH and American Heart Association study sections, associate editor and editorial board memberships, selection as a Fellow of the American Heart Association, as Fellow of the American Physiological Society, invited seminars and symposia, and leadership roles on national science committees. 

Resta has also contributed meritoriously to graduate, medical, and undergraduate education and junior faculty development at UNM. He has served in many curriculum development and educational administrative positions at the UNM Health Sciences Center, including Chair of the Cardiovascular/Pulmonary/Renal Block in Phase I medical curriculum, director of several Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program (BSGP) courses, and a member of both BSGP and MD/Ph.D. steering committees. Nationally, he serves on advisory boards for NIH diversity training programs in research education.

His former undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral trainees have successfully obtained extramural training fellowships, mentored and independent NIH grants, and industry, government, and faculty-level academic positions. In addition, he is the Principal Investigator of an NIH-funded T32 Minority Institutional Research Training Grant that supports pre-doctoral and post-doctoral trainees from diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

Resta has been actively involved as a mentor and teacher in our BSGP, MD/Ph.D. program, UPN Program, and medical curriculum for many years and has received the School of Medicine’s Faculty Teaching Excellence Award for his contributions to both the BSGP and Phase I medical curriculum. In 2017, he was presented the William G. Dail Award for outstanding and lasting contributions as a teacher, mentor, and leader in the medical and graduate education programs at the UNM School of Medicine. He was later awarded the Faculty Research Excellence Award for Basic Science Research, the highest research recognition at the Health Sciences Center. His accomplishments were most recently recognized by the UNM Regents' Professor Award in 2022, celebrating remarkable contributions across the principal domains of academic pursuit: teaching, scholarly works, and administrative service to the University.

The UNM Alumni Association celebrates outstanding alumni accomplishments and contributions with awards throughout the year. For more information, visit Alumni Awards.