Top Student Awards Announced At Graduation

SOCORRO, N.M. May 13, 2015 – Kyle Benalil won the top undergraduate award, the Brown Award, which was announced at commencement on May 9. The two top engineering students won the Cramer Award – Tracy Sjaardema and Joseph Gabaldon, both of the Electrical Engineering Department.

The top two graduate awards were also announced at graduation: Dr. Michael Stock, a 2014 graduate in the Physics Department, won the Langmuir Award. Dr. Munawar Khalil won the Founders Award.

The Brown Award is named in honor of Mr. C. T. Brown, who was for many years a member of the Tech Board of Regents.  It is presented to the member of the graduating class who, in the opinion of the Faculty, ranks highest in scholarship, conduct, and leadership.  The award consists of a plaque and a prize of $1,000 dollars.


Kyle Benalil is the 2015 Brown Award winner.



 Tracy Sjaardema was named the top female engineering student of the Class of 2015 -- and was awarded the Cramer Award.





Joseph Gabaldon was named the top male engineering student in the Class of 2015 -- and won the Cramer Award.



Benalil is a native of Socorro, where he was valedictorian of his high school class. He earned his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering.

Benalil has excelled at everything he has done at New Mexico Tech. He earned a 3.90 GPA and has worked many jobs on campus. He also completed an internship at The Ohio State University during the summer of 2014.

He serves as a conflict-resolution mediator with the SGA on campus. He has worked as a Teaching Assistant and he has been a research assistant with Dr. Nadir Yilmaz.  He has already had two peer-reviewed publications.

Benalil was the president of the SAE student chapter and the men’s soccer club. He is a Macey Scholar, which is Tech’s top academic scholarship.

Earlier this year, Benalil was named the Engineering Student of the Year at the Society of Professional Engineers annual banquet in Albuquerque and the Sportsman of the Year at Tech.

Benalil is headed off to Seattle soon, where he has accepted a position with NAVSEA at the Puget Sound Ship Yard.

The Cramer Awards were established to honor Tom Cramer, an engineer and a member of the Tech Board of Regents for 26 years.  They are awarded to the male and female seniors graduating in engineering who rank highest in scholarship.  Each recipient receives a certificate and a $400 prize.

Sjaardema earned her bachelor’s in electrical engineering with minors in optical sciences and engineering and in mathematics with a stellar GPA of 3.97.

            Since coming to New Mexico Tech four years ago, Sjaardema has worked as a grader and tutor, a teaching assistant for three semesters, and a student intern at Sandia National Laboratories.

            She has been an active member of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society and a member of the IEEE student chapter. She has volunteered as a judge for the New Mexico Science and Engineering Fair and for the New Mexico Science Olympiad.

            This summer, she is returning to Sandia as an intern, then will head off to the University of Central Florida, where she is starting a PH.D. program in optics and photonics.

Gabaldon is from Belen, where he was salutatorian of his graduating class.  He earned two bachelor’s degrees this year, in electrical engineering and mathematics. He is also finishing with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

Joseph has worked as note taker, lab attendant, grader and tutor at New Mexico Tech. He also worked full-time last summer as a student intern for Boeing in Albuquerque. He worked with cutting-edge satellite tracking equipment and developed software to find distortions in tracking lenses.

Joseph is undecided about his future plans. However, his professors in the Electrical Engineering Department are actively trying to get him to stay at Tech to work a master’s degree.

Every year New Mexico Tech presents two awards for graduate students – the Langmuir Award and the Founders Award.

The Langmuir Award honors an outstanding scientific research paper by a student or recent graduate of New Mexico Tech. This award consists of a plaque and $400 dollars.

            Dr. Michael Stock, who could not be present at graduation, earned his Ph.D. in the Physics Department in 2014 and is currently doing a post-doc in Japan.

            Stock was nominated for this award for his publication titled, “Continuous Broadband Digital Interferometry of Lightning Using A Generalized Cross-Correlation Algorithm.”

            His paper was accepted for publication by the Journal of Geophysical Research in February 2014. In supporting his nomination for this award, professors in the Physics Department said that both his paper and his interferometer instrument provide a quantum leap forward in our ability to study lightning processes inside storms.

Stock incorporated and developed new and innovative techniques for processing and analyzing the high-speed interferometer data. The results show in unprecedented detail how lightning develops inside storms.

The Founder's Award honors the people responsible for founding the New Mexico School of Mines in Socorro in 1889.  It is given to the person graduating today with an advanced degree who is judged to have made an outstanding contribution to the Institute through scholarship, research, and involvement in campus affairs. The award consists of a plaque and $800 dollars. 

Dr. Munawar Khalil was nominated for the Founders Award because of his great contributions to the Department of Chemistry.


Dr. Munawar Khalil accepts the Founders Award from Graduate Dean Dr. Lorie Liebrock.


Khalil graduated with his Ph.D. in chemistry in 2014 under the direction of research advisor Dr. Ning Liu and academic advisor Dr. Michael Heagy. His dissertation was “Expediting the Chemistry of Hematite Nanocatalyst for Catalytic Aquathermolysis of Heavy Crude Oil.” His dissertation resulted in three publications with another manuscript under submission. He has presented research at two American Chemical Society conferences.

From his home country, he has received two prestigious awards – the Ambassador’s Award for Excellence and a scholarship from the Indonesian Ministry of Finance.

He was noted as one of the best teaching assistants in the department and was quite adept at instrumentation. During his time at Tech, he taught many other younger graduate students, thus passing the torch.

            His professors said he was a joy to have in class and was among the best citizens Tech could hope to have on campus. He has served as the president of the Indonesian Student Association’s statewide chapter.

            Dr. Khalil is headed to Malaysia, where he will be doing a post-doc at the University of Malaya.

– NMT –