(Photo by Craig Fritz; courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories)

The Chinese Institute of Engineers-USA (CIE-USA) annually awards Asian American engineers representative of exceptional leadership, strong technical skills, and a commitment to public service. This year, Tian Ma, a University of New Mexico alum and computer engineer specializing in research and development at Sandia National Laboratories has been honored as a 2023 Asian American Engineer of the Year (AAEOY).

This award pays tribute to Ma’s efforts in remote-sensing systems. His data processing algorithms are what pioneer the detection and tracking of objects pertinent to national security missions. Past AAEOY awardees included Nobel laureates, key corporate executives and even astronauts. 

“I’m deeply humbled and honored to receive such prestigious recognition from an external organization. I am deeply grateful to everyone who has been part of my career journey,” Ma revealed. 

Ma earned a Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Management of Technology at UNM’s Anderson School of Management in 2015 to complement his experience in computer engineering and advanced degrees earned at the University of Illinois- Chicago and Colorado State University. Now, he is a computer scientist developing cutting-edge technology and he credits the Management of Technology program for his skills in advancing technological innovation through management of new product development, creation of strategic partnerships, and transitioning technology to the modern world.

“These skills are very valuable and complementary to my engineering profession where I am often tasked with leading technological innovation for our programs,” Ma stated. 

He has fond memories of events hosted by Anderson School of Management, which included guest speakers like former U.S. Representative and current New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. He met Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, one of the crew members on board Apollo 17 who walked on the moon, in one of his UNM Master’s of Business Administration classes. 

 “I also have fond memories of a course taught by Sul Kassicieh, distinguished professor in Anderson. He was a remarkable professor and a great advisor,”Ma said. “Through his encouragement, I participated in the UNM business plan competition and gained valuable experience. I experienced firsthand building a startup business from scratch, and we pitched our business plan to investors.”

In the years since his time at UNM, his expertise in data analysis and processing has earned him the reputation of an expert in the field of detection algorithms and tracking systems. His degrees and various accomplishments have planted him in areas like computer vision, data analytics and fusion, remote sensing and decision science. 

The AAEOY award is not Ma’s only honor. In 2016, he was also awarded CIE’s Asian American Most Promising Engineer of the Year and he received the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers Professional Achievement Award in 2020. Ma is named on many U.S. patents, published works, and peer reviewed journals. The AAEOY award stands out to Ma as a particularly prestigious award that he takes much pride in.

Ma is a mentor to students and colleagues in science, technology, engineering and mathematics roles, particularly other Asian minority students and engineers. He serves on the board of directors as the founding director for the New Mexico Future City Competition and hopes to bridge the cultural gaps and language barriers that stunt the community and connections to be made in the fields of science. 

The first Future City Competition in New Mexico was started in 2014. Each year, volunteers from Sandia Labs and UNM, along with STEM professionals, participate in judging, mentoring, and coordinating the competition.

“It is very important to give back to the community that helped shape you. Our successes in life often come from other people,” Ma said. “We are grateful to UNM for hosting this competition each year and are amazed by the efforts and quality of presentations that students put together.”

Ma is a distinguished leader in the field of computer engineering that many more can learn from, and he has always seized the moment to teach others. Ma offered advice to UNM students.

“Find a field that you are truly passionate about and you will put in more effort than anyone else. There will always be difficult times, such as being rejected from a job or publication. It’s part of your journey. When confronted with adversity, focus on getting back up. Have a professional mentor – someone who can give you feedback and guide your professional path.”

Learn more about Tian Ma's award from Sandia National Laboratories.