14 UNM faculty members chosen for the 2024 Women in STEM Awards


The 11 funded projects include a study of carbon storage in soils along the middle Rio Grande floodplain, an investigation into rural New Mexico healthcare workforce challenges and opportunities, and the development of new software for large scale 3-D printing with adobe


Fourteen faculty members at the University of New Mexico have been selected for the 2024 Women in STEM Awards. 


Selected award recipients will consider water treatment processes for atmospheric water harvesting, look for ways to improve local food system cohesion, and study the role of social interaction in stress and depression, among other things.


Now in their ninth year, the awards have allocated $585,660 to 80 women at UNM.


Several of the 11 projects selected this year are collaborative or interdisciplinary efforts.


The 2024 winners are:  


Leah Buechley, an associate professor in Computer Science and Maryam Hojati, an assistant professor in Civil Engineering; Kate Cartwright, an associate professor in Public Administration; Chanee Choi, an assistant professor in Film and Digital Arts; Deena Gould, an assistant professor in Teacher Education, Educational Leadership and Policy; Natasha Howard, an assistant professor in Geography and Environmental Sciences; Elspeth Iralu, an assistant professor in Community and Regional Planning; Allyson McGaughey and Anjali Mulchandani, assistant professors in Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering; Elif Tunc-Ozcan, an assistant professor in Neurosciences;  Marisa Repasch, an assistant professor in Earth and Planetary Sciences and Alex Webster, an assistant professor in Biology; Eva Stricker, a research assistant professor in Biology; and Kamilla Venner, an associate professor in Psychology.


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 awards review committee received many proposals that are different from those in the past several years. 


“The pandemic had a big impact on the type of proposals we received during the past couple of years. This year marked a shift, and we saw an increase in collaborative proposals, proposals from faculty thinking about their paths from associate professor to professor, and proposals supporting research travel,” she said. 


“It was exciting to see this level of enthusiasm and planning from applicants. The collaboration with Academic Affairs and the OVPR means we’re able to support some creative and ambitious work,” Fulghum said.


UNM Provost James Holloway said he’s looking forward to seeing the results of the work of the awardees.


“We at UNM are grateful to the anonymous donation that has made it possible for us to support our incredible faculty.  Their discoveries advance New Mexico and our nation – I’m excited to see how this award helps them advance their science,” 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 awarded projects are:

– Buechley and Hojati’s project, New Software and Materials for Very-Large-Scale Adobe 3D Printing, will “develop new software and materials that enable us to 3D print complex architectures, including domes and arches, from local New Mexico soil. By combining research into materials and toolpath-planning algorithms, we aim to dramatically expand the kinds of structures that can be 3D printed from adobe,” Buechley said.


“I am really excited about the work this award will enable us to do. Through our collaboration, I believe we are going to be able to do truly transformative research and build (or 3D print) structures that no one has been able to build before,” Buechley said. 


Hojati she’s “incredibly grateful for this funding to explore the exciting potential of 3D-printed adobe construction. This project aspires to revolutionize adobe construction, making it faster, more efficient, and environmentally friendly,” she said.


– Cartwright’s project, Investigating Rural Healthcare Workforce Challenges and Opportunities: A Qualitative Examination of Rural New Mexican Clinicians and Administrators, aims to address rural healthcare worker shortages in New Mexico.


“This project will investigate the challenges of rural health workforce shortages and the strengths of rural healthcare organizations and professionals here in rural New Mexico with a specific focus on healthcare leaders,” she said. “By better understanding the factors keeping rural healthcare workers in their roles and identifying the barriers they face, the study aims to help New Mexican policymakers and healthcare administrators develop strategies to improve healthcare access and quality in rural areas.”

Cartwright called the award a “significant milestone.”


“It combines my expertise in research and teaching in a new, strategic direction. This project not only advances my research agenda and professional goals, but also will allow me to strengthen relationships with rural healthcare partners across the state which improves the likelihood that this research will have an applied impact,” she said.


Choi’s award, Remembrance Project, will fund the travel and ongoing work that explores the emotional landscape of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.


The project uses cutting-edge technology including machine learning and electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors “to create an immersive live narrative driven by brainwave activity,” according to Choi’s proposal.


“Remembrance Project reproduces the data of dementia patients in poetry, AI and 3D technologies, showing an artist using a brain sensor to play this gamified animation,” Choi said. “By using Hangul in my project, I paid tribute to my mother, a dementia patient in Korea, by repeatedly incorporating her voice and related poems.” 


Choi said the award “holds great significance for me. My research focuses on the history of oppression faced by women and the artistic representation of dementia. By exploring disease, technology, and love from a feminist perspective, this award strengthens my belief in my research and gives me the confidence to pursue my work with greater assurance.”


Gould’s project, Geosciences and Science Teacher Leadership in New Mexico, focuses on publishing science education and teacher leadership materials for the diverse communities of New Mexico.


The effort aims to help Native American students “to connect school science with their cultural identities and cultural ways of knowing,” according to Gould’s proposal. She will work with Darryl Reano, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, who has researched and published about creating and studying culturally relevant educational environments in New Mexico using Indigenous research frameworks.


“We intend to develop a model of science teacher leadership that connects schools science with other ways of doing science which includes families and their community and cultural ways of knowing and doing science. We intend to develop K-12 science teacher leadership that supports and advances the implementation of culturally relevant K-12 science for the diverse communities of New Mexico.”


– Howard’s project, Geographical History of the Detroit River, will fund archival research in Detroit, Michigan and Washington D.C. on the Detroit River for a planned book on the history and resilience of the river and the way humans have impacted it, including through pollution and clean up efforts.


Books published to date on the river have not “taken a comprehensive look at the longer history of human interactions with the Detroit River from the pre-colonial period to the present era,” according to Howard’s proposal. 


“The Detroit River was home to at least five different Native American communities when European settlers arrived,” she said. “French and later Anglo settlers arrived on the banks of the river. New waves of European immigrants built communities near its riverbanks. Later, the river became an important space for African Americans during the Great Migration. The spaces surrounding the Detroit River became known as Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, the oldest historically Black communities in the city. In the 1920s, Mexicantown was born, and is still today, home to a large and growing Mexican/Latinx community.”


Howard said she’s thankful for the award “because it will allow me to begin a new research project on a place that is very familiar but one I have overlooked. For me, the history of the Detroit River defines resiliency. It is the story of how the river has come back time and time again to sustain and care for many communities over hundreds of years.”


Iralu’s project, Indigenous Himalaya: Naga Methodologies for Community Resilience, will go toward travel for a collaboration between Iralu and Dolly Kikon, Professor of Anthropology at University of California – Santa Cruz. The work is “to connect essential questions and debates of Indigenous studies with our community of origin, Nagaland, an Indigenous territory at the border of India and Myanmar, and to develop funding proposals for work on community resilience in the Indigenous Himalayas,” Iralu said.


“Through collaborative work on Naga Indigenous methodologies, we aim to bolster a movement of Naga scholarship that centers Indigeneity in research on environmental and climate justice,” she said.


Iralu said she’s excited for the opportunities that the award presents.


“The collaboration travel award will provide essential support for an ongoing collaborative project on Indigenous methodologies which is meaningful not only for our scholarly fields, but also for our community of origin. What is most exciting is the opportunity to connect this project to new work by Indigenous Himalayan scholars and help create the conditions of possibility for further research on Indigeneity in the Himalayan region,” she said.


McGaughey and Mulchandani’s project, Advanced Water Treatment Processes for Atmospheric Water Harvesting, will develop effective water treatment processes that enable atmospheric water harvesting for water supply in rural, decentralized areas and after disaster events.


McGaughey said she’s thankful for the seed funding for the grant at this early stage of her career at UNM. The work builds on research by Mulchandani on atmospheric water harvesting. 


“This water was previously believed to be pure, but Prof. Mulchandani’s research has shown that it is not – and that it contains unique contaminants compared to our usual water sources. So, there are many exciting questions to answer about how treatment processes work to remove these contaminants – I can’t wait to see what we find.”


Mulchandani said she’s ready to get started on the work. 


“I am excited to receive this award and begin collaborating with the newest faculty member in our department – Prof. Allyson McGaughey. This work is a great synergy between our respective expertise. Atmospheric water harvesting could present a viable new source of water, but adequate water treatment needs to be applied to ensure safety for fit-for-purpose use. Allyson is an expert in water treatment processes, and I look forward to our groups collaborating together to retrieve samples from the field, measure water quality in the lab, and design and test new treatment processes.”


– Tunc-Ozcan’s project, An overlooked component of affect regulation: social transfer of stress and antidepressant effects and the role of adult neurogenesis in these processes, will study “how stress and the effects of antidepressants can be transferred between individuals through social interaction,” Tunc-Ozcan said. “Our goal is to understand the role of new brain cells in these processes and how they influence mood, behavior, and social transference.”


Tunc-Ozcan said she’s grateful for the award.


“I aim to use this funding to foster a productive collaboration to explore the intricate dynamics of stress and antidepressant effects in a social context.”


Repasch and Webster’s project, Towards resilient riverscapes: Understanding feedbacks between hydrologic variability, geomorphic change, and soil carbon persistence in the middle Rio Grande, will analyze carbon storage in floodplain soils at four key sites along the middle Rio Grande floodplain. The sites are within the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program, where ecosystem data has been collected during the past 27 years.


Both Repasch and Webster said they are looking to deepen inter-departmental collaboration through the project.


“Rivers and their floodplains are hotspots of carbon storage and transformation processes that fuel food webs and help mitigate climate change, but are stressed by human water use, river regulation, and a warming, drying climate. We aim to understand how changing water availability and floodplain processes impact carbon storage in floodplain soils through detailed analyses of sediment cores from several sites along the middle Rio Grande, New Mexico,” Repasch and Webster said.


Stricker’s project, Food System Cohesion Within and Beyond UNM, will examine ways to strengthen the food systems at UNM and throughout the state. The work will bring together a 30-member group that includes UNM faculty, staff and students as well as external experts in academic food system programs and New Mexico food system entities. Among other things, the group will assess current food system resources and challenges and make plans for ongoing collaboration and grant writing.


“Research and student engagement in the food system is crucial for local food systems in New Mexico to maintain resilience in the face of climate change, land development, and aging producer workforce, but currently UNM’s food system work is distributed across multiple disciplines,” Stricker said. 


“The workshops will be successful if we can build a plan and strategy for UNM to serve students and community members in creating and sustaining an equitable local food system, with targeted research and engagement at relevant steps in production, processing, distribution, marketing, preparation, and waste,” she said.


– Venner’s award is for travel funding to New Zealand to collaborate with Māori Indigenous researchers, treatment providers, and people with lived experience for her ongoing research on addiction treatment programs for American Indian and Alaska Native people.


“For my first sabbatical, I am excited to meet with Maori researchers and clinicians who are culturally tailoring evidence-based treatments for psychological disorders to forge new collaborative research projects.”


Addiction treatment for American Indian/Alaska Native people has been predominantly designed by and for non-Hispanic White populations, which underscores the need for more culturally relevant programs and for cross-country collaboration on the best solutions, she wrote in her proposal. 


“As an Indigenous scholar, I believe collaborating with other Indigenous scholars will be a powerful way to move our science of cultural adaptations forward,” she said. 


Learn more about past winners and how you can help support the awards.