Las Vegas, New Mexico – New Mexico Highlands University named computer science and engineering professor Gil Gallegos Professor of the Year for 2016 – 2017.
Each spring an independent selection committee composed of students, faculty and staff reviews the nominations for Professor of the Year and selects a winner.
A coalition of Highlands students nominated Gallegos for the award along with faculty.
“As a Latina woman competing in a field dominated by men, I feel very proud of how far I have come, and none of this would have been possible without Dr. Gallegos,” said Rosario Vasquez, a computer science graduate student who completed her B.S. in computer science at Highlands in 2016. “He is a great professor and an excellent mentor.”
Vasquez, who is the first in her family to attend college, is part of Gallegos’ student research team in his Computational Science Laboratory. The students are paid interns through a National Science Foundation grant.
“Dr. Gallegos continuously fights for and receives grants for our university, always finding interesting research projects for students to participate in that bring us endless possibilities,” Vasquez said.
In 2016, Vasquez was part of a student research project Gallegos supervised that investigated nanomaterial light interaction that has potential for advancing solar cell efficiency and cancer treatments.
“Dr. Gallegos is always ready to give students advice regarding their classes or research work, and share his vast knowledge and experience with us,” said Evgheni Jucov, who completed his master’s degree in computer science in May 2017 and also conducts research in Gallegos’ lab.
Jucov was accepted to several Ph.D. programs in material science and begins his doctoral studies at North Carolina State University in August.
Gallegos earned his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from New Mexico State University in 2004. He joined the Highlands faculty full-time in 2005 and has chaired the Computer Science and Mathematics Department since 2015.
His own research focuses primarily upon artificial intelligence, also called machine learning, and computational light physics, which is manipulating light at the nanoscale. Nanomaterials are smaller than wavelengths of light.
“We’re using both artificial intelligence and light physics to design ultrasensitive biosensors for humans to help detect early onset of pancreatic cancer and Alzheimer’s disease,” Gallegos said. “Artificial intelligence has become the modern sleuth for discovering new materials for biomedical applications.”
Gallegos teaches upper-division and graduate classes such as Artificial Neural Networks, Machine Learning, Parallel Programming, Animation and Visualization, and Data Science I and II.
“We’re bringing to the table computer science courses that are highly relevant in today’s job market, from health care to cybersecurity. Our students are learning cutting-edge problem-solving techniques that prepare them for positions ranging from the national labs to Google,” Gallegos said.
He said he loves teaching at Highlands.
“It’s enormously gratifying to see students get excited about learning, recognize their own potential, and achieve their goals. This award is the pinnacle of my teaching career because my students nominated me. It’s priceless,” Gallegos said.
He said one of the joys of being in academia is getting to choose research topics that are challenging, enjoyable and can have a meaningful impact on humanity.
Gallegos’ research is funded by a five-year $3.3-million National Science Foundation grant called Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials, or PREM, that Highlands chemistry professor Tatiana Timofeeva wrote and leads. Gallegos is a co-investigator for the grant.
“With the PREM grant, we’re collaborating with Highlands chemistry professor Jiao Chen to explore and design new nanomaterials that can impact health care,” Gallegos said.
Gallegos also taught on the research faculty at Sandia National Laboratories during summers from 2009 – 2015, opening up more research and internship opportunities for his Highlands students.
His research has been published in scholarly publications such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Journal and American Chemistry Society Journal.
Early in his career, Gallegos was a graduate research assistant for NASA.