STEM Shoutout: Dr. Vanessa Svihla

Chemical and Biological Engineering Associate Professor awarded 2020 Harrison Faculty Recognition

Dr. Vanessa Svihla, an associate professor in the University of New Mexico’s Chemical and Biological Engineering Department and Organization, Information & Learning Sciences Program (OILS), was awarded with the Harrison Faculty Recognition of 2020.

The Harrison Faculty Recognition Award, established in 2005, honors Stanley E. Harrison, who received his master’s degree in electrical engineering from UNM. It is awarded to mid-level faculty who have demonstrated a commitment to community service, are recognized by their peers and are dedicated to engineering education.

Svihla’s research focuses on understanding how people find and frame design problems —how these activities relate to identity, agency, and creativity. She is also interested in ways technology can embed authentic assessment without pausing learning.

“From my point of view, it really emphasizes the impact of our research. When we do research funded by the National Science Foundation, they are hoping to see two things: one is intellectual merit and the other is broader impact,” Svihla said. “I feel like the Harrison award is really about that aspect, the broader impacts of the work we do in the community, and I feel like I try to do that. I felt really proud to be recognized for that.”

The COVID-19 pandemic interrupted research projects and classes, however it has also been an opportunity for Svihla to look at how people managed the uncertainty associated with something like a pandemic.

“One of the things I have done is pivot some of my work to look at how people have managed to retain that sense of agency despite being confined at home because of the pandemic,” Svihla said, “Some people said that we needed to postpone things while others said that we needed to change things in a way to not replicate what we were doing, but somehow keep things going to stay productive.”