New Mexico Tech Presents Top Faculty Awards at 2022 Commencement

May 14, 2022

Top faculty awards go to Dr. Matt Heizler, Dr. Curtis O’Malley, and Dr. Minnie Mao

SOCORRO, N.M. – New Mexico Tech announced the top faculty awards for the 2021-2022 academic year at the Commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 14, at the city of Socorro Rodeo and Sports Complex.

More than 358 members of the Class of 2022 participated in the ceremony, along with six from the Class of 2021 and six from the Class of 2020. The Class of 2022 includes 240 bachelor’s recipients, two associates degrees, six graduate certificates, 100 master’s recipients, and 10 doctorate recipients. Hundreds of family and friends filled the venue for the graduation ceremony.

The top faculty award recipients are: Dr. Matthew Heizler, Distinguished Research Award; Dr. Curtis O'Malley, Distinguished Service Award; and Dr. Minnie Mao, Distinguished Teaching Award.

Dr. Matthew Heizler
Dr. Matthew Heizler, second from right, receives the 2022 Distinguished Research Award from New Mexico Tech President Stephen G. Wells, second, from left, at Commencement May 14, 2022, at the Socorro Rodeo and Sports Complex. 

Dr. Matthew Heizler
The recipient of the 2022 Distinguished Research Award is Dr. Matthew Heizler, principal senior geochronologist and associate director for laboratories at the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources. The recipient of the Distinguished Research Award is chosen by a committee of Tech faculty and researchers and is nominated by their colleagues. The winner receives a plaque and a $2,500 cash award.

Dr. Heizler earned an associate of arts degree from Vermillion Community College in Minnesota, a bachelor of science degree in geology from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, a master of science degree in geology from the University of Maine-Orono, and, in 1993, a doctorate in geochemistry from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). The same year, he came to work at New Mexico Tech. Dr. Heizler is a geochronologist and thermochronologist, which means that he studies the age and history of rocks.  He does this work using the Argon-Argon dating method using the world-class laboratory on the New Mexico Tech campus. This lab serves students and professional researchers within New Mexico, around the U.S., and around the world.  

Dr. Matt Heizler
Dr. Matt Heizler helps lead the procession at the 2022 New Mexico Tech Commencement as a member of the Platform Party, representing the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources.

During Dr. Heizler’s tenure at NMT, he has published 213 peer-reviewed publications that have been cited nearly 5,000 times. He has also written 30 successful proposals, bringing close to $4 million to New Mexico Tech, and has advised and mentored numerous students. Dr. Heizler’s nomination for the distinguished research award was supported by colleagues at the University of New Mexico, UCLA, and the University of Edinburgh, who were unanimous in praising his accomplishments, research creativity, and collegiality. Particularly noted was his ability to work productively with researchers whose ideas might differ from his own, and to bring together a community of scientists in his field.

Dr. Heizler’s research has spanned many topics.  His recent work focuses on a new, creative idea to understand the history of rivers by dating volcanic sand grains found in river sediments.  In the words of UNM geology professor Dr. Karl Karlstrom, Dr. Heizler has initiated a “detrital sanidine revolution — a whole new transformative approach that is supplying the key timing data needed to test and resolve persistent controversies about uplift of the Rockies, age of Grand Canyon, and evolution of the Rio Grande.“  Dr. Karlstrom further describes Dr. Heizler as a “tireless advocate and servant for geoscience research in New Mexico and internationally.”

Dr. Curtis O’Malley
The recipient of the 2022 Distinguished Service Award is Dr. Curtis O’Malley, assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department. The Distinguished Service Award honors faculty who have demonstrated superior service to the University and to the broad community. Recipients have a distinguished and prolonged level of involvement and are exemplary University citizens who have applied their role as good stewards of New Mexico Tech to both improve student learning and improve the quality of life for the NMT campus and local community. The winner receives a plaque and a $2,500 cash award.

Dr. Curtis O'Malley
Dr. Curtis O'Malley, right, receives the Distinguished Service Award from New Mexico Tech President Stephen G. Wells, third from left, at Commencement on May 14, 2022.

Dr. O’Malley earned a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from Drexel University in Philadelphia in 2005. He also earned a second bachelor of science degree in architectural engineering that year. He went on to earn a master’s degree in civil engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2007 and a Doctorate in Civil Engineering from that same institution in 2011. 

After working for the U.S. Army at the Aberdeen Testing Center, he worked for three years at Central New Mexico Community College in Albuquerque as a part-time instructor. Dr. O’Malley came to New Mexico Tech in 2012 as a post-doc in the Mechanical Engineering Department. He served as an adjunct professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department and was on the Research Faculty of the Mechanical Engineering Department. Since 2016, he has been an assistant professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department.

Curtis O'Malley Family
Dr. Curtis O'Malley, second from right, is surrounded by family members at New Mexico Tech Commencement on May 14, 2022, to help celebrate his Distinguished Service Award. From left, William, Laura, and Ella O'Malley help celebrate the award.

Dr. O’Malley’s outreach contributions have provided countless opportunities for K-12 students to engage in STEM. In 2015, he founded the Mechanical Engineering K-12 Outreach program, which has established New Mexico Tech as a premier K-12 outreach organization at large public STEM events, including Big Brothers Big Sisters Discovery Festival, AFRL’s Super STEM Saturday, and Explora’s Science Fiesta (among many others). 

In this context, Dr. Allison Brody, director of Career Pathways at Explora, noted that “Dr. O’Malley has been a truly effective and valued outreach partner to Explora and others, impacting literally thousands of students and families throughout New Mexico. He is adept and tireless at supporting and mentoring his students as they create and utilize high-quality, successful demonstrations to be used at a broad array of outreach events. I am continually inspired by Dr. O’Malley -- he and his outreach team manage an amazingly rich and productive schedule in service to many local communities throughout the state.” 

Recently, Dr. O’Malley founded the New Mexico Robot Combat League, which has provided another opportunity for middle and high school students to engage in STEM activities. His first competition was held in the spring 2021, and has grown in one year to having 40 teams compete this spring by forging a relationship with New Mexico MESA, in which he supported MESA teachers in learning the material needed to coach a robotics team. He supported teams with 1-to-1 learning, fostering excitement and demand for a program from MESA teachers, especially in light of the challenges in re-engaging students after the pandemic. 

According to Ling Faith-Heuertz, MESA director, “Dr. O’Malley has directly impacted student lives with his teaching materials, supported teachers’ professional learning, and given these groups a glimpse of how exciting the engineering process can be. These students and teachers now see the value of the process, they know that they can get that value at NMT with Dr. O’Malley, and are developing relationships at NMT to create their STEM identities.” 

In addition to representing NMT at large STEM events and creating a statewide STEM competition, Dr. O’Malley has helped NMT become a major participant in the SystemsGO Rocketry program, and assisted in creating a drones competition. He has also helped innovate a STEM summer roadshow, where NMT workshops travel to rural areas in New Mexico to provide unique opportunities for students. 

Dr. Minnie Mao
The recipient of the 2022 Distinguished Teaching Award is Dr. Minnie Mao, instructor in the Physics Department. The Distinguished Teaching Award is presented each year to a faculty member based on recommendations and nominations from students, alumni, and other faculty. The winner receives a plaque and a $2,500 cash award.

Mao Award
Dr. Minnie Mao, second from right, listens as Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Jackson introduces her as the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award at the 2022 New Mexico Tech Commencement. President Stephen G. Wells, right, looks on. 

Dr. Mao earned a bachelor of science degree in astronomy and astrophysics from Monash University in Australia. She received her honours degree in physics from the University of Tasmania. After being a graduate research fellow at the California Institute of Technology, she earned a doctorate in physics from the University of Tasmania in Australia. 

Dr. Mao did a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Socorro from 2012 to 2015. From 2015 to 2016 she worked as a support scientist at the Joint Institute for Very Long Baseline Interferometry in Europe, and she served as a Marie Curie Fellow at the University of Manchester in England. She returned to Socorro and was a visiting postdoctoral fellow at the NRAO in 2018 and 2019, before joining the NMT faculty in 2019 as an adjunct professor and physics lecturer, and as a full-time instructor in 2021.

Dr. Minnie Mao
Dr. Minnie Mao received the Distinguished Teaching Award at the 2022 New Mexico Tech Commencement May 14, 2022, at the Socorro Rodeo and Sports Complex.

Dr. Mao is known as an enthusiastic and engaging instructor with excellent communications skills and a highly interactive manner. She encourages class participation and uses many live demonstrations. 

Comments from her students include:
“She is an amazing professor who cares about her students and wants to see them all succeed.”

“She’s so energetic and willing to help anyone at any time. She’s passionate about teaching and is overall an amazing person.”

“Dr. Mao is an extremely knowledgeable, approachable, kind, fair, and attentive professor. She is a great teacher and clearly genuinely cares about her students.”

“Minnie is one of the most respected and loved professors on this campus. Everyone who meets her adores her because of her humor, wit, and candor. I also find that she is compassionate beyond compare to others, and acts on her compassion for others regularly, through helping students, or seeking out students who aren’t doing too well.”