Three Techies Named ‘Engineering Students of the Year’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. March 9, 2015 – Three New Mexico Tech students won awards as the Engineering Students of the Year at the annual meeting of the Society of Professional Engineers in Albuquerque on Feb. 27.

Kyle Benalil, a Socorro native and a mechanical engineering student, won the top award. Andrew Gabrysiak, originally from Wisconsin and a mineral engineering major, was the first runner-up. Ron Hruban, an electrical engineering major from Washington state, was the second runner-up.


 The 2015 Engineering Students of the Year are (from left) Andrew Gabrysiak, Kyle Benalil and Ron Hruban.


Dr. Tom Engler, professor of petroleum engineering and Dean of Engineering, introduced the award winners during a special luncheon.

Benalil will graduate in four years this May and will start his career with NAVSEA at the Puget Sound Naval Yard in Washington state in their nuclear engineering program. Benalil will join his brother Alan, who started working at Puget Sound after graduating from Tech with a degree in electrical engineering in 2012.

Engler said that Kyle Benalil has consistently demonstrated high quality work both in academics and research.  As an undergraduate research assistant, he worked on the impact of various fuel mixtures in combustion engines and micro gas turbines. He, along with his mentor, Dr. Yilmaz, has published two peer-reviewed papers in this area. In 2014, Benalil was an intern at the Center of Automotive Research at The Ohio State University, a competitive, national program that brings the brightest students to OSU to perform research on automotives.

Benalil has also worked as a teaching assistant for the mechanical engineering program, assisting students with everything from freshman courses to junior-level fluid and thermal sciences. He has served as a tutor and peer facilitator and as a conflict resolution mediator for the SGA, and many other organizations and events. Benalil also served as the president of the SAE student chapter, which received the SAE Honeywell Outstanding Collegiate Branch Award in 2014.

In his letter of nomination, Dr. Yilmaz wrote that “As a researcher, Kyle is independent, responsible and hardworking. Kyle shows his enthusiasm for research through the time and effort he puts forth in the lab … His distinguished research work makes a huge different and separates Kyle from other students.”


The New Mexico Tech contingent at the Society of Professional Engineers annual meeting: from left are Dr. Warren Ostergren, Dr. Navid Mojtabai, Andrew Gabrysiak, SPE president Dr. Nadir Yilmaz, Nourradine Benalil, Tech Regent Deborah Peacock, P.E., Kyle Benalil, Ron Hruban and Dr. Tom Engler. 

Photos by Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech


Benalil’s nomination was supported by four other faculty and staff members: Dr. Andrei Zagrai, Elaine DeBrine Howell, Jim Ruff, P.E., and Dr. Arash Mousavi.

Benalil is a current Macey Scholar (Tech’s highest academic scholarship) and the valedictorian of Socorro High School.

Andrew Gabrysiak, a junior in Mineral Engineering, is a non-traditional student from Middleton, Wisc. He first earned a bachelor’s of business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

He came to New Mexico to do volunteer work for the Rio Grande Community Development Corp., assisting first time entrepreneurs in developing their business and marketing plans. After developing an interest in mining and explosives, Gabrysiak enrolled at Tech and since then he has been an outstanding student.

Gabrysiak works in the field-testing group of EMRTC on campus; where his job function is to prepare sites for explosives testing. He is the current president of both the Cooney Mining Club (Tech’s chapter of SME) and the International Society of Explosives Engineers campus chapter. He successfully secured funding for club members to attend the ISEE national conference and the SME conferences, as well as organizing guest speakers to talk at Tech. He has also organized the annual golf fund-raising tournament.

Gabrysiak has also won two national competitive scholarships from SME and the Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute.

Dr. Navid Mojtabai, in his nomination letter, wrote that “Andrew is the best student in our program. … He is mature, responsible and serious about his career. … Andrew has very high standards of morals and ethical behavior.”

Second runner-up Ronald Hruban is a senior who hails from Pullman, Wash. He will graduate in May, with an outstanding GPA of 3.96, and will finish in four years. He is a member of the Experimental Sounding Rocket Team; an interdisciplinary senior design team composed of electrical and mechanical engineering students. He and his team are designing an inertial navigation based flight computer for the team project.

He also contributes time as a mentor and teaching assistant within the EE department, volunteer’s time for science Olympiad and other charities, and is a member of the Tech Off-Road Club and the Rock Climbin Club.

After graduation he will return to his home state of Washington and, like Benalil, will work for NAVSEA in their nuclear engineering program.

In his nomination letter, Dr. Kevin Wedeward wrote Hruban has become the “go-to” student as a grader, teaching assistant and tutor for the most difficult courses in electrical engineering.

Hruban helped spearhead a new mentoring program in which he and several classmates developed and piloted an event to welcome students into the program and provide continuing mentorship and enhance a sense of belonging in the department.

“He is the type of student I wish all our students would emulate in that he genuinely enjoys electrical engineering, shows pride in New Mexico Tech, assists the department and fellow students in any way he can, and has interests and activities outside his field of study,” Wedeward wrote.

In his junior design clinic, Hruban and his teammates built an outdoor robot capable of triangulating the location of a beacon that emits a radio signal. Wedeward said that Hruban led the design of a sophisticated antenna and signal processing electronics, then integrated the overall robotic system.

At the SPE event, UNM also honored its top engineering students, honoring six students from each of their engineering departments. Each student received a certificate and a cash award. Dr. Yilmaz, the current president of the N.M. chapter of the Society of Professional Engineers, presided over the luncheon. In addition to student awards, the Society also presented awards to top engineering professionals and projects in New Mexico.

Incidentally, Benalil is the second Socorro High School graduate to win the top award. In 2012, Morris Huang won the Engineering Student of the Year when he was a senior at the University of New Mexico. Huang is the son of Tech professor of environmental engineering Dr. Frank Huang.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech