Recent UNM faculty hires adjust to pandemic in a new place

For the 2020-2021 academic year, the University of New Mexico welcomed 57 tenure-track faculty into several different departments despite the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way research is conducted and classes are taught.


Here’s how some of the new faculty members are adjusting to the new normal while at a new university: 


Dr. Tania Reynolds, Psychology

Reynolds began in UNM’s psychology department in August as an assistant professor, coming from Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute where she worked as a postdoctoral fellow. Although her time at UNM is so far different than how she originally imagined, she said that she is still making the most of her time here. 


“As an extrovert, I get much enjoyment from social interaction and stimulating conversation, so I am looking forward to the day when I can meet with students, staff and fellow faculty in person,” Reynolds said. “For now, I am trying to maximize the few virtual interactions I have, while enjoying the additional free time afforded by not having to commute.” 


In terms of research, she is currently pursuing two projects looking at how cognitive biases underlie moral concern. For example, Reynolds found that since society is more likely to classify women as victims and men as perpetrators, sympathy for mens’ suffering is more difficult to cultivate. 


“I hope that by shedding light on the way the human mind reliably errors, we can correct for these heuristics to promote compassionate treatment of others,” Reynolds said. 


Reynolds said that she is most excited to create interdisciplinary collaborations with different faculty across the University, such as Dr. Melissa Emery Thompson (evolutionary anthropology, expert in endocrinology) and Dr. Marco Del Guidice (psychology, expert in life history theory). She added that she is thankful that the University psychology department has a sub-area dedicated to human evolution.  


“I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by colleagues who appreciate the immense value in applying evolutionary theorizing to the human mind. It is through lively discussions that I come up with my best hypotheses,” Reynolds said. “I cannot imagine a more intellectually stimulating environment than UNM Psychology for developing innovative research.”


Dr. Marciarmen Hernández, Sociology


Hernández also said that her time at the University so far has a positive one despite the new research and teaching environment brought on by the pandemic and that she has felt welcomed by the sociology department. She came to UNM as an assistant professor in August after earning her PhD in sociology from the University of Texas at Austin earlier this year. 


“I look forward to being part of the vibrant intellectual community at UNM and to participating in interdisciplinary collaborative research projects around issues of climate change and environmental justice,” Hernández said. 


She is currently pursuing a book project which takes a closer look at an informal community in Esmeraldes, Ecuador a few meters away from the largest refining complex in the county. The book follows the day of several neighborhood members as they navigate problems that arise from living amongst the toxic environment and explores themes of environmental justice, racism, issues of informal living and marginality in the Latin American context. 


“There are excellent resources available at UNM to help junior faculty establish a research program,” Hernández said. “I look forward to working with the various research institutes across campus that foster collaboration and provide resources, including seed funding for new projects. On a broader level, I am excited to be in New Mexico and to explore local research opportunities.”


Dr. Katherine Massoth, History

Massoth came to UNM as an assistant professor of history from the University of Louisville, where she was affiliated with Latin American and Latino studies as well as women, gender and sexuality studies. 


In fall of 2020, her most recent work —  “Engendering the Long Nineteenth Century and Mapping Gender on Arizona History” — will be featured in a special issue of the Journal of Arizona History: “What’s Arizona Got to Do with It? Arizona History in Western, US and Transnational Contexts.” 


She said that as a historian of New Mexico and Arizona, she is excited to be close to resources such as the Center for Southwest Research located in Zimmerman library. 


“This will allow me to balance research and teaching in ways I have not been able to previously,” Massoth said. “I am also really looking forward to teaching and analyzing regional history with the diverse UNM student body, many of whom were born and raised in the same spaces we will be studying in the classroom.” 


While she has yet to meet her students in person, she said that the class zoom calls have been very productive and full and learning. 


“The UNM and the NM community have shown how resilient they are and I am very proud of my students in handling these tough times,” Massoth said. 


Massoth is also finishing up her book manuscript, “Keeping House: The Borders of Gender Roles, Cultural Practices, and Domesticity in Territorial Arizona and New Mexico,” which reassess the impact of the annexation of the area on the domesticity of Spanish-Mexican and Mexian-American women. 


“By focusing on how Spanish-Mexican and Mexican American women were now foreigners in their homelands, I analyze how they negotiated changes brought by U.S. westward expansion by using their Hispanic gendered social, legal, cultural, and regional practices,” Massoth said. “My manuscript genders the history of territoriality in the U.S. West by considering the role of women and family after U.S. annexation in 1848.”


Dr. Lei Yang, Electrical and Computer Engineering


Yang joined UNM as an assistant professor of engineering after serving as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Notre Dame. She said that she has so far enjoyed her time at UNM and is thankful for the warm welcome she has received allowing her to smoothly transition into her research and teaching work. 


“The support and the available resources from UNM are valuable for both of the development of my career and research,” Yang said.  “For instance, the SoE Student Research Experience Programs are great opportunities to attract undergraduate student’s interests in our research.”


Yang’s research surrounds integrating neural architecture search (NAS) for graphic neural networks (GNNs) with application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC), which she described as an open-problem. She added that she hopes to be the glue between the software and hardware research within her team in the department. 


“The major bottleneck comes from the large design freedom associated with ASIC designs. To cope with these challenges, we plan to build an ASIC template set based on existing successful designs to reduce design space,” Yang siad. “On top of it, we will propose a co-explore framework, which can simultaneously identify multiple GNN architectures and the associated heterogeneous ASIC design, thus achieving optimizations on hardware efficiency (i.e., latency, energy, area) with negligible accuracy loss.”

To learn more about the new faculty who came to UNM this academic year, visit our new faculty page.