UNM Student Scholarship that Contributes to Addressing New Mexico’s Grand Challenges

UNM graduate and undergraduate students conduct amazing research. Many of these studies contribute to ensuring more sustainable water resources, reducing the incidence and impact of substance use disorders, and providing for successful aging for all New Mexicans. Below are some examples of this outstanding student research.


COMM 1130

During the Fall semester of 2021, Grand Challenges collaborated with COMM 1130 (Public Speaking) instructor Evan Ashworth to encourage undergraduate students to engage with one of the three current challenges. Students were assigned a persuasive speech on the related topic of their choosing.

Students recorded their speeches and made them available on YouTube. The instructors from each course section recommended the best presentations in their respective class and a small committee determined the best presentations from all of those submissions. Our review team selected eight speeches that exemplify excellence in undergraduate student achievement - four for Award and four for Honorable Mention. These eight students each received a UNM Bookstore Gift Certificate along with a certificate of accomplishment.

Award Winners and their Presentations*


Award Title 

Link to Presentation

Makylah ApostolGrand Challenge Student Achievement AwardPresentation
Danger VarozGrand Challenge Student Achievement AwardPresentation
Gabriella FlureGrand Challenge Student Achievement AwardPresentation
Ronan LawrenceGrand Challenge Student Award, Honorable Mention Presentation
Austin McOwitiGrand Challenge Student Award, Honorable Mention Presentation
Devon NorbertoGrand Challenge Student Award, Honorable Mention Presentation
Jack RosgenGrand Challenge Student Award, Honorable Mention Presentation


*One student requested not to be included on the website.


2021 UNM Team Research Symposium Student Competitions, Sponsored by UNM Grand Challenges

Congratulations to the 2021 UNM Team Research Symposium student finalists and winners. For the Student Team Research Concept Competitions, teams of students were invited to work together across disciplines to submit original research concepts. While the students are not required to implemented these projects, this competition provides valuable experience conceptualizing and communicating important research ideas. The winning team for each competition received a $2,000 cash award split among team members, with each of the other finalist teams receiving $200 split among members.

View the graduate presentations here, and the undergraduate presentations here.

Judges included Nicole Tami, Executive Director of Global Education Initiatives; Kris Goodrich, Associate Dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences; Kerry Howe, Professor of Engineering and Lead Convener for the UNM Sustainable Water Grand Challenge; Tom Turner, Associate Dean for Research in the College of Arts and Sciences; Arash Mafi, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Director of the Center for High Technology Materials; and Mary Jo Daniel, Associate Vice President for Research.

Graduate Winning Team

  • Development of a multidimensional resilience scale: A transdisciplinary approach to decolonializing resilience in substance use research. Alena Kuhlemeier, Sociology (PhD program); Brigitte Stevens, Psychology (PhD program); Carmela Roybal, Sociology (PhD program); Alexandra Hernandez-Vallant, Psychology (PhD program); Melissa C. Henry, Individual, Family, and Community Education (PhD program)

Graduate Finalist Teams

  • The interplay of media influence, social norms, and interpersonal communication on vaping behaviors: a socio-ecological perspective. Courtney FitzGerald, Communication and Journalism, PhD program; Moonsun Choi, Communication and Journalism, Ph.D program; Lyounghee Kim, Communication and Journalism, Ph.D program; Natalie Rogers, College of Population Health, Masters of Public Health program

  • SpiderBot: an innovative autonomous classroom sanitization solution. Abu Bakar Siddique, Mechanical Engineering, Ph.D. program; Khandakar Nusrat Islam, Electrical and Computer Engineering , PhD program; Mohamed Abuhegazy, Mechanical Engineering, PhD program.

  • Designing an innovative and efficient touchless sensor for elevators at UNM. Khandakar Nusrat Islam, Electrical Engineering, Ph.D. program; Abu Bakar Siddique, Mechanical Engineering, PhD program; Jared Kirsch, Mechanical Engineering, PhD program

  • Consciousness: what we know and where we are going? Radha Swaminathan, Biomedical Engineering PhD Program; Monica Gonçalves-Garcia, Psychology PhD Program.

  • Challenges of Power Systems During COVID-19. Tohid Khalili, Electrical Engineering, Ph.D. program; Sadaf Ahmadi, Biology major; Mohammad Ahmadi, non-degree graduate student; Ragai Altamimi, Nuclear Engineering, Ph.D. program.

Undergraduate Winning Team

  • Artificial photosynthesis. Lena Hoover, Chemical & Biological Engineering; Priya Bhakta, Electrical Computer Engineering; Lana Hoover, Mechanical Engineering

Undergraduate Finalists

  • Impact of a green default nudge on resource conservation given UNM student patterns and different cost perception. Katrina Dutt, Economics and International Studies with a minor in Honors Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts; Matthew Goldman, Statistics and Economics with minors in Management and Interdisciplinary Liberal Arts

  • Cross-sectional analysis of alcohol misuse and violent crime in the City of Albuquerque. Raven Delfina Otero-Symphony, Statistics; Aysu Nora Caglar, Biochemistry; Anthony Abyeta-Lopez, Chemistry, Biology

Grand Challenges Poster Contest Winners

In Fall 2021, UNM announced the Grand Challenges Student Poster Contest. Students were encouraged to create posters for any one of the three following questions/themes: Why is this challenge important to New Mexico? What is your individual artistic interpretation of challenges? What solutions do you propose to the challenges?

We are pleased to announce the poster contest Student Achievement Award winners:

Congratulations to Rylee and Samantha. Great Job!

And thank you to all students who submitted posters. Your insights, dedication and creativity are appreciated.


During the Fall of 2020, Grand Challenges collaborated with COMM 1130 instructors to encourage undergraduate students to engage with one or more of the three challenges. Led by Evan Ashworth and Nana Kwame Osei Fordjour, students were assigned a speech that focuses the importance of the challenges. 523 students participated in 22 sections, Seven presentations were selected to receive recognition for “Excellence in Undergraduate Student Scholarship, Grand Challenges.” Among the six award winners are: Aubry Hershberger, Davin Lee, Alejandra Jurado, Veronika Simko, and Andrew Ye.

Substance Use Disorders Grand Challenge Graduate Student Scholars Program

The University of New Mexico Substance Use Disorders (SUDs) Grand Challenge aims to decrease substance use and addiction, and their impacts on health, criminal justice, education, and social welfare, and to improve prevention, treatment, and policy related to substance use and disorder across New Mexico. The goal of the Graduate Student Scholars Program is to provide financial support for research and research mentoring from members of the SUDs Grand Challenge Leadership team to graduate students enrolled in doctoral degree programs at UNM. Supporting research that examines health equity and inequity among historically disadvantaged groups in New Mexico is a goal of this program.

We are pleased to announce the following UNM Doctoral Students as the 2020 Substance Use Disorders Grand Challenge Student Scholars:

  • Melissa C. Henry, Department of Individual, Family and Community Education, whose research focuses on the lived experience of Hispanic female counselors in rural New Mexico and who is interested in conducting community-based participatory research projects examining trauma and substance use disorder in rural New Mexico communities.
  • Alexandra Hernandez-Vallant, Department of Psychology, whose research focuses on the intersection between addiction and health disparities among Hispanic/Latinx populations and who is interested in conducting research on addiction in diverse communities that will have a lasting impact on health policy and the lives of people facing addiction in New Mexico.
  • Alena Kuhlemeier, Department of Sociology, who conducts research focused on the health and well-being of sexual and gender minority youth and is interested in examining quantitative intersectional techniques and qualitative data to study the meso- and macro-level determinants of sexual and gender minority youth behavioral health in New Mexico.
  • Carmela M. Roybal, Department of Sociology, who takes an intersectional approach to understanding the health and social inequities experienced by women who have been impacted by the opioid epidemic and is studying the intersection of race, gender, ethnicity, tribal status, and class in the perpetuation of intergenerational addiction in New Mexico communities.
  • Brigitte R. Stevens, Department of Psychology, whose research focuses on gaining a better understanding of neurophysiology and how neurophysiology impacts the etiology of substance use disorder and elucidating processes that may ultimately improve treatment outcomes for diverse individuals with substance use disorder in New Mexico.



In the Spring of 2020, UNM hosted UROC during the period of UNM limited operations. Nearly 50 students submitted their posters and presentations online. Four of these were selected to receive “Excellence in Undergraduate Student Research Awards, Grand Challenges,” including the following:

  • Abigail Axness, Use of Continuous Water Quality Sensors to Examine Headwater Response to Snowmelt: Valles Caldera and Jemez Mountains.
  • Ilona Nathania Alisudjana, Assessing Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) Treatments among Native and Non-Native Communities.
  • Spencer McBee, Recreational Cannabis: Potential Factors of Expansion and Potential Effects.



During the Spring of 2020, Grand Challenges collaborated with COMM 1130 instructors Evan Ashworth and Nana Kwame Osei Fordjour to encourage undergraduate students to engage with one or more of the three challenges. Students were assigned a speech that focuses the importance of the challenges. Originally, these speeches were designated for delivery in the SUB. However, due to the pandemic, students instead recorded their speeches and posted them online. Six presentations were selected to receive recognition for “Excellence in Undergraduate Student Scholarship, Grand Challenges.” Among the six award winners are: Kai Hollenberg, Melissa Door-Rodriguez and Issa Bustria.




  • Anwar, Ishtiaque. Degree program: PhD in Civil Engineering.
    A new approach for sealing crude oil leakage through wellbore cement fracture.
    Co-Authors: John C. Stormont, Mahmoud Reda Taha.

  • Colvin, Tucker. Degree program: Geography and Environmental Studies.
    Governance and Status of New Mexico's Rural Drinking Water Systems.
    Collaborators: Dr. Benjamin Warner, Amy Jones, Rachel Sanchez, and Indu Roychowdhury.

  • Cooeyate, Norman. Degree program: Master of Community and Regional Planning.
    Engaging the 7th Generational Model in Honoring Traditional Leadership Knowledge.
    Faculty mentors: Renia Ehrenfeucht, Ph.D., Professor and Chair CRP Department; Theodore (Ted) Jojola, Ph.D., Professor CRP & Director of iD+Pi.

  • Kindilien, Shannon. Degree program: Health Economics and Outcomes Research.
    Potentially Inappropriate Prescribing of Proton Pump Inhibitors Among Older Patients in the US.
    Co-Author: Cheng Chen

  • Liu, Zhuoming. Degree program: MS Geography.
    Classifying livestock grazing behavior and GIS-modeling potential cumulative risks from exposure to Abandoned Uranium Mine Waste in the Cove Wash Watershed, Arizona, USA.

  • Maphis, Nicole. Degree program: Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program (BSGP).
    pT181-Qß vaccine reduces pathological Tau and rescues cognitive deficits in a mouse model of tauopathy.
    Co-Authors: Julianne Peabody, Erin Crossey, MD, PhD, Shanya Jiang, PhD, Fadi Jamaleddin Ahmad, Maria Alvarez, Amanda Yaney, Yirong Yang, PhD, Laurel Sillerud, PhD, Colin Wilson, Reed Selwyn, PhD, Jonathan L. Brigman, PhD, Judy L. Cannon, PhD, David S. Peabody, PhD, Bryce Chackerian, PhD and Kiran Bhaskar, PhD). https://www.nature.com/articles/s41541-019-0118-4

  • Marziliano, Adrian. Degree program: Water Resources Program
    Probing through woods on a snowy transect: Measuring snow depth variability across forest-stand boundaries in a moderate snowpack.
    Co-Author and Research Mentor: Ryan Webb

  • Park, Bokyung. Degree program: Nanoscience & Microsystem Engineering.
    Biomimetic Electrospun Films for Effective Radiative Cooling Under Sunlight.
    Co-Authors: In Chul Um, Sang M. Han, Sang Eon Han.

  • Read, Kaitlyn. Degree program: Nanoscience and Microsystems Engineering.
    Novel methods for measuring drought stress of crops in the field.
    Co-authors: Patrick Hudson, Philip Miller, David Hanson.

  • Specht, Samantha. Degree program: Occupational Therapy Graduate Program.
    Semmes-Weinstein sensory testing at the fingertip: Should 2.83 be the norm?
    Co-authors: Kaitlyn P. Casaus, Elizabeth I. Madrid, Michelle W. Randall. Research mentor: Dr. Patricia C Siegel.


  • Griego, Cory. Degree program: Biology (now continuing at UNM Central Campus)
    Investigation of groundwater chemistry at agriculturally and urban impacted sites in Valencia County, New Mexico.
    Research Advisors: Dr. Kevin Hobbs and Dr. Ben Flicker

  • Nevarez, Aida. Degree program: Biology.
    Metagenomic analysis of biological diversity near Rio Grande wastewater effluent discharge sites.
    Research Advisor: Dr. Ben Flicker

  • Sanchez, Nicolette. Degree program: Biochemistry.
    A survey of antimicrobial resistance genes from bacteria derived from the middle Rio Grande.
    Research Advisor: Dr. Ben Flicker