Alumni Award Recipients

Lobo Award

Joyce M. Szabo (’83 PhD)

Joyce M. Szabo, a Regents’ Professor of Art History, joined the faculty of UNM’s Department of Art and Art History in 1989. She specializes in Native American art and museum studies and her area of particular focus is Plains drawing and painting from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Szabo was curator of American Art at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Va., before returning to teaching in 1988. In addition to her faculty position in the department, she has published widely and is also an interim curator at the University Art Museum at UNM. Szabo was the William H. Morton Distinguished Fellow in Native American Studies at Dartmouth College in the fall of 2010 and the Gordon W. Russell Visiting Professor in Native American Studies, also at Dartmouth, during the summer of 2013.

Zia Awards

Carolyn Montoya (‘76 BSN ‘13 PhD) (’83 PhD)

Carolyn Montoya has held many titles at the UNM College of Nursing since 1991, including professor, associate dean, director of the family and pediatric Nurse Practitioner programs, and Interim Dean from August 2017 to August 2018. As president of the New Mexico Nurse Practitioner Council, she worked to achieve full prescriptive authority and independent practice for nurse practitioners in New Mexico. She has served as president of both the American College of Nurse Practitioners and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners. She also is on the U.S. Health and Human Services Rural Health Advisory Committee and has worked to develop academic practice partnerships in rural and underserved settings. Montoya was inducted as a fellow to the American Academy of Nurses in 2016.

Kenneth Armijo (’05 BA)

Kenneth Armijo, a senior member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories, is a problem solver. His research is focused on photovoltaics, distributed energy and concentrating solar thermal energy technologies. Using engineering to push forward innovation in alternative energy and sustainability is an extension of Armijo’s childhood in Sabinal, N.M., where he learned to solve problems on the family chile farm. Armijo graduated cum laude in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a minor in mathematics from UNM, and went on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley. He is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the 2017 Principal Investigator Award from the New Mexico Small Business Assistantship for an automated PV container racking system. In 2016 he was honored as a New Mexico 40 Under 40 recipient.

Kenneth B. Sapon (’81 BS)

Kenneth B. Sapon trained as a pharmacist, but the family business drew him in and he has worked at Champion Agency, the insurance company founded by his father, since 1979. He is now the president of the firm, which provides clients with life, disability and long-term care insurance and annuities. He is an active supporter of UNM and a serious fan of Lobo Basketball. In 2008, when Ken was recruited to join the UNM Anderson School of Management Foundation Board, he immediately agreed and served until 2014. “When I joined the Anderson Foundation Board, it was so that I could help grow the number of entrepreneurs that come out of UNM. I want to inspire risk-takers because we need more outside-of-the-box thinkers to grow our business environment,” he says. He and his wife, Anne, who is also a Lobo, are also members of the UNM Foundation President’s Club.

Robert Melendez (’94 BS, ’96 MS, ’00 MD, ’08 MB)

Robert Melendez, an ophthalmologist and partner with Eye Associates of New Mexico since 2004, is a cataract surgeon in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho. He also serves as a clinical assistant professor at the UNM Health Sciences. He just completed his term as president of the UNM School of Medicine Alumni Association. Melendez earned his medical degree from the University of New Mexico in 2000 and completed his ophthalmology residency training at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio, where he served as chief resident. Melendez helped start the Juliette RP Vision Foundation in honor of his mother who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. The foundation raises funds for research grants and scholarships to help visually impaired college students.

Inspirational Young Alumnus Award

Jesse Sprague (’13 BS)

Jesse Sprague’s work centers on the earth and spatial data, and he is specifically interested in geomorphology and remote sensing. Christopher Lippitt, associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, recognized Sprague as a star when he first taught him in an undergraduate course. He now chairs Sprague’s master’s thesis committee and predicts Sprague will lead New Mexico in geospatial technology. “His work at the intersection of computer science and GI Science, coupled with entrepreneurial success and care for UNM and New Mexico at large, is a rare combination that I believe represents the very best of what UNM hopes for from its alumni,” Lippitt says. While completing his Master of Science degree, Jesse founded Ibex Aegis Inc., a geospatial intelligence software delivering time sensitive decision support from remotely sensed data. Jesse is an Eagle Scout and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and enjoys climbing mountains.

James F. Zimmerman Award

Joy Harjo ('76 BA)

Joy Harjo graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in creative writing. Harjo has published eight award-winning books of poetry. Her most recent collection of poetry, "Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings," was on the short list for the Griffin International Prize and named the American Library Association's Notable Book of the Year. Harjo's writing awards include the prestigious Ruth Lily Prize from the Poetry Foundation for lifetime achievement, the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the New Mexico Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Rasmuson United States Artist Fellowship, and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, among others. Her memoir, "Crazy Brave," won several awards, including the PEN USA Literary Award for Creative Non-Fiction and the American Book Award. She has published two award-winning children's books, "The Good Luck Cat" and "For a Girl Becoming."

Harjo performs with her saxophone and flutes nationally and internationally, solo and with her bands, Joy Harjo & Poetic Justice and the Arrow Dynamics Band. Her one-woman show with music, "Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light," will be published by Wesleyan University in 2018. She has five CDs of music and poetry. The Native American Music Awards named her Best Female Artist in 2009.

She is researching and writing her next memoir, which will be an historical memoir linking her generation of native rights activists and workers with the seventh generation from which they are descended. She is a co-founder with tribal members Kenneth Johnson and Sandy Wilson of the Mvskoke Arts Association. She holds the John C. Hodges Chair of Excellence at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Bernard S. Rodey Award

Phyllis Perrin Wilcox ('93 PhD)

Phyllis Perrin Wilcox graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1993 with her PhD and is Professor Emerita in the Department of Linguistics at UNM. She was instrumental in establishing the UNM baccalaureate degree program in signed language interpreting. Beginning in 1971, with eight non-degree students, this program evolved into one that teaches more than 1,000 students annually. This bachelor's of science degree program is now accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Interpreting Education. Wilcox has written many books, grants and articles on American Sign Language, interpreting, and signed language metaphor, with 50 invited or refereed presentations. Wilcox has presented her research in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Spain, Switzerland, Tunisia, and the United States.

Wilcox holds the Certificate of Deaf Interpreter (CDI) from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) and is licensed by the New Mexico Signed Language Interpreting Practices Board. Wilcox served as president of the New Mexico Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, chair of the New Mexico Mentoring Board, and an adjudicator for the RID Ethical Practices Committee. She served on the UNM Long Range Planning Committee for ten years, serving as vice chairwoman. She has been honored with the Dr. Phyllis Perrin Wilcox Endowed Scholarship in 2007, established by former students and colleagues.

Through the years, she received the UNM Outstanding Teacher of the Year, Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service Benefiting Local Communities by KOAT Television Station, and Certificate of Nobility from New Mexico Secretary of State.

Erna S. Fergusson Award

Donald "Duffy" Swan ('68 BA)

Donald "Duffy" Swan was born in Spokane, Wash., but graduated from Sandia High School in 1963 and the University of New Mexico in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in political science. He also attended executive summer programs at both Harvard and Wharton universities.

Swan devoted 35 years to the telecommunications industry, beginning with Mountain Bell in 1965. He served in a number of management and executive capacities in the former Bell System and with USWEST. In 1986, he became vice president and CEO for USWEST-New Mexico. In 1991, Swan became part of USWEST's International Division and directed startup businesses in Russia, Hungary and Malaysia. He retired from USWEST International in 1997 but returned to the telecomm industry in 2000 when he became vice president for a rural, domestic quasi-startup VALOR Telecomm.

In 2004, he became president and COO of French Mortuary, Inc., and the French family of companies. In January 2008, he was named president and CEO of the French family of companies and was named chairman in July 2011.

Between 1998 and 2004, Swan served two different periods as UNM's Director of Development and President of the UNM Foundation. Swan serves on several community boards and he is the 2002 recipient of the New Mexico Ethics in Business Award. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Jean Ann, and they have two married daughters, five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Duffy is an early morning exerciser and bike rider who also enjoys hiking, fishing, reading, music and travel.

Faculty Teaching Award

Karl Karlstrom

Dr. Karl E. Karlstrom has been a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of New Mexico since 1994. He received his PhD from the University of Wyoming in 1981, and held prior professor positions at North Carolina State and Northern Arizona universities. His research spans the geologic timescale and addresses the formation and stabilization of continents, the supercontinent cycle, and neotectonics of ongoing uplift of the Rocky Mountain region.

Karlstrom teaches at all learning levels and his classes include Freshman Learning Communities (2007-14), New Mexico Field Geology, Structural Geology, and the Advanced Summer Field Course. He has mentored 76 graduate students, including eight current students. Karlstrom along with his wife Laura Crossey, developed the Trail of Time Geoscience Education Exhibition at Grand Canyon National Park that opened in 2010 and received the 2011 First Place award from National Association for Interpretation, this exhibit reaches about 6 million park visitors annually.

Karlstrom’s teaching is entwined with his research. He has 188 published peer-reviewed journal articles, most of them co-authored with his students. Google Scholar lists 10,402 citations of more than 430 publications since 1979. He received the 2009 Distinguished Service Award from Geological Society of America, UNM 60th Distinguished Research Lecture in 2014, Career Achievement Award from the American Institute of Professional Geologists (with Laurie Crossey) in 2015, and New Mexico Geological Society Honorary Member in 2017.

For questions or more information:

Alumni Relations Office
O: 505-277-5808
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