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College of Arts and Sciences honors individuals for achievements, leadership


Bulletin report

New Mexico State University’s College of Arts and Sciences’ (CAS) Dean’s Council has named honorees who have achieved distinction through their accomplishments and leadership while supporting the community and the college, the college announced in a news release.

The latest honorees include Bobby Herrera of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Jana Williams, Richard Parra and Charles and Nita Swartz, all of Las Cruces.

CAS created A Starry Night in 2013 as an annual gala fundraising event to recognize those who have created a legacy of advancing arts and sciences at NMSU. The event initially supported the Dean’s Fund for Excellence but later pivoted to support Aggie Jumpstart and the Sustaining Academic Progress program funded by the Elizabeth Ayres Pollard Endowment. Starry Night has been repeatedly postponed because of the pandemic but will be rescheduled when conditions allow, CAS said.

“This gala and recognition are our way of celebrating four outstanding community members and alumni,” said CAS Dean Enrico Pontelli. “Their long-standing support of our university and our community inspires us with their examples of service and commitment to helping others achieve their dreams.”

Herrera, Ph.D., is co-founder of E25Bio and one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Healthcare honorees in 2020. E25Bio is developing rapid, low-cost diagnostic test kits for those living in developing countries. Herrera received a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry from NMSU in 2012. He completed a doctorate in biomedical research from the Harvard Graduate School, where he focused on the development of T-cell based diagnostic tools for the Zika and Ebola viruses.

Parra is CES’s honoree in arts this year. He has been a strong supporter and advocate of local arts culture in and around Las Cruces for many years. A native of Deming, New Mexico, Parra attended art school at NMSU before opening Spirit Winds Gift Source and Coffee Bar in Las Cruces in 1978. After selling that business, Parra repurposed his sprawling 3,500-square-foot garage warehouse in Mesilla Park to create The Hood, a new venue to showcase and support the Las Cruces and Mesilla Valley community with art, collectibles, jewelry and more. 

Long-time NMSU benefactors Charles and Nita Swartz are this year’s honorees in arts and sciences. Both worked in education prior to retirement, her as a Las Cruces elementary and middle-school teacher and him as a professor in the NMSU Department of Mathematical Sciences. Charles still works with the department as a professor emeritus and continues to write research papers and mathematics texts. Nita is an active member of the Philanthropic Educational Organization, which promotes educational opportunities for women. She has assisted several women international graduate students in obtaining scholarships and plays a big role in supporting the Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra. Charles and Nita endowed two CES scholarships in 2018 and have since established a professorship.

Williams, the honoree in town and gown, has been a longtime advocate for CES and is well-known throughout the community as an experienced pediatrician. Williams is originally from South Carolina, where she received a bachelor’s degree and medical degree prior to completing her medical residency in pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Williams moved to Las Cruces in 2001 and was instrumental in establishing J. Paul Taylor Academy and serving on its board and supporting students from Las Cruces High School and Alma d’arte Charter High School. Williams serves on CES’ Dean’s Council, has been a sustaining member on the A Starry Night committee and helped raise funds to support CES. Williams has her medical practice at Full Bloom Pediatrics and is chief of pediatrics at Memorial Medical Center. She is also assisting with evaluations at the NMSU Autism Center.

For more information, contact CES Dean’s Council Chair Connie Hines at 575-644-5662.