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Stars shine as NMSU Arts and Sciences honors its best and brightest


The New Mexico State University College of Arts and Sciences honored university and community members as stars of its 24 academic departments during a reception and awards program March.

“It’s good to be back,” said Arts and Sciences Dean Enrico Pontelli, at the first in-person Starry Night program since 2019.

“I feel very honored to be up here tonight,” said Ben Trujillo, who accepted the award for his wife, Karen Trujillo, recognized as the star of the sciences. Trujillo, superintendent of Las Cruces Public Schools, a former Doña Ana County commissioner and secretary of the New Mexico Public Education Department, died in a traffic accident in February 2021. She earned a Ph.D. from NMSU in 1998.

“I only do what I love,” said Denise Welsh, honored with the college’s Town and Gown Award, and recognized for her service as a member of the American Southwest Theatre Company (the nonprofit that benefits the NMSU Theatre Department) since 2007, and her long-time service to NMSU as an employee and a volunteer.

Welsh is a graduate of the NMSU journalism department and became director of instructional media services at the university in 2004. She retired in 2017.

Her teachers and mentors in the NMSU English Department “increased my confidence with words,” said author Jennifer Cervantes, recognized as the college’s star or arts and humanities. “Stories, to me, are the foundation of our society.”

Cervantes wrote a short story for her youngest daughter, which became the novel “Tortilla Sun.” Since then, Cervantes has published more than a dozen young adult novels and is a New York Times best-selling author.

David Wilson, founder of Wilson Binkley Advertising and Marketing in Las Cruces, recognized “the special magic of this university,” as he received the star of the College of Arts and Sciences award. Wilson earned a bachelors degree at NMSU before starting what would become one of the state’s largest and most successful advertising agencies.

Barbara Hubbard received the college’s lifetime achievement award. The longtime business manager at the Pan American Center, Hubbard brought many world-famous acts to perform at NMSU.

“I’ve had a blessed life,” Hubbard said, noting that country music star and actor Reba McIntyre had just made a $20,000 donation to the American Collegiate Talent Showcase Hubbard started in 1978 to provide scholarships for performing-arts college students.

Hubbard turns 96 in July.

Arts and Sciences department stars recognized are Aerospace Studies Department: Capt. Christopher Kuennen; Anthropology: Fumi Arakawa, Ph.D.; Art: Christina “Tina” Ballew; Astronomy: Zachary Edwards; Biology: Terri Orr; Chemistry and Biochemistry: Kimberly Gomez; Communication Studies: Anne P. Hubbell; Computer Science: Ferdinando Fioretto; Creative Media: Johnathon Sepp; Criminal Justice: Hyunin “Ina” Back, Ph.D.; English: Rabiatu Mohammed; Geography: Eric Magrane, Ph.D.; Geology: Karen Hancock; Government: Tad Conner, Ph.D.; History: Tom Burnham; Journalism and Media Studies: Erika (Dudding) Swan; Languages and Linguistics: Lucy Zollner; Mathematical Sciences: Mary Ballyk; Military Science: Capt. Jay Kubler; Music: Bill Clark, Ph.D.; Philosophy: Ben Young; Physics: Gary S. Kyle; Psychology: Michael C. Hout; Theatre: Michael Wise (faculty/staff) and Alia Belinte (student).