The New Mexico Highlands University Alumni Association will honor four distinguished individuals and one new Highlands’ organization during its annual alumni banquet Sept. 25 as part of the university’s Homecoming Week festivities.
“These honorees have brought distinction and recognition to Highlands University through their exemplary lives and their outstanding professional contributions,” said Jim Mandarino, director of the university’s alumni office. “The emeritus professor award is a new category. Many of our alumni have achieved their high levels of success in part because of the dedication and inspiration so many exceptional Highlands’ professors have provided over the years.”
Distinguished Emeritus Professor Award – This new award will be presented for the first time to Dr. Robert Amai, a chemistry professor who taught at Highlands University from 1961 to 1988. Amai was a widely respected and beloved professor during his tenure at Highlands, and many former students can attest to his dedication to students and their education. He was a major influence in the success of countless students, many of whom went on to distinguished science and medical careers after graduating from Highlands University.
“I always felt students wished to be recognized and treated as individuals, and I tried to associate names with faces of my students as soon as possible,” Amai said. “I am grateful to all the students with whom I worked, in the classroom and out, for the enjoyment and satisfaction which they brought to my career.”
A native of Hilo, Hawaii, Amai earned both his undergraduate and master’s degrees in chemistry from the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. He earned his doctoral degree in organic chemistry from the University of Iowa.
Amai first came to Highlands University as a young research associate and was asked to join the faculty in 1962. From 1969 to 1974 he served as the chairman for the chemistry department. In 1986, he became the first faculty member to receive both the Professor of the Year award and the Exceptional Service to the University award in a single year.
Amai and his wife, Pat, a retired school teacher, have always been very active in the Las Vegas community. Amai is a longtime member of the Kiwanis club, is coordinating the Las Vegas CROP Hunger Walk this year, and has served on the board for the Carnegie Library. Both Amai’s are well known locally for their gracious kindness.
While Amai is no longer teaching, his commitment to educational excellence continues through an annual chemistry student scholarship in his name established with a gift from Jim Cole, a distinguished Highlands’ alumnus.
Distinguished Family Award — This award will be presented to the Margarita Rael Gonzalez family to honor Gonzalez’ remarkable educational legacy. Gonzalez’ great-granddaughter, Ruth Mares, will accept the award on behalf of the family. Mares earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Highlands University. She and her husband, Ken Mares, own Territorial Title in Las Vegas.
Mares said her beloved great-grandmother, whom the family called Mama Lita, died in 1974 at the age of 98. Mares was just 16 at the time, and thought of her as “my sweet gramitaâ€¦.who was a fantastic baker.”
“As I matured, finished high school and then completed college, I became more appreciative of the â€˜attitude’ of Mama Lita’s household, which was one of academia,” Mares said. “There was always appreciation for learning, for reading, for intelligent discussion, as well as an appreciation for nature and the environment. Love and faithfulness to God were the way of life. She was a wonderfully elegant and intelligent woman.”
Mares said her great-grandmother was born in Tecolote, N.M., in 1875. She married Apolonio Gonzalez in 1892 at our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church in Las Vegas. In 1893, she attended Highlands when it was called the Normal School, and became a teacher. She taught in Tecolote, Sheridan, and a small village near Rowe called Pajarito.
Mares said that as her family grew, her Mama Lita decided to stay home and raise her eight children.
“She never returned to the classroom but she continued to be an educator,” Mares said. “Through her example, we developed the ambition for higher education and the passion for learning. At least 50 of Mama Lita’s children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren have attended NMHU. We include among us educators, educational administrators, doctors, accountants, business owners, scientists and artists.”
Distinguished Alumnus Award — Dr. Melvyn Huckaby, who was the first African American oral surgeon in Houston, will be named a distinguished alumnus. Huckaby graduated from Highlands University with a degree in chemistry and zoology, and went on to earn his DDS from Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry in Nashville, Tenn. He completed an oral surgery internship at Harlem Hospital in New York, a postgraduate oral pathology program at the New York Institute of Clinical Oral Pathology, and was a resident oral surgeon at Harlem Hospital.
Huckaby’s distinguished career as an oral surgeon has spanned more than 40 years. In 1968 he returned to his hometown of Houston and established a successful private practice in oral surgery, where he practiced until 1990. Since 1990, he has worked as an oral surgeon at the Craven & Plummer Inc., Dental Center in Houston. The center works to deliver high-quality dental services to Harris County residents, including indigent patients.
Huckaby is well known in Houston for both his surgical expertise and compassion for his patients. His staff has a file overflowing with heartfelt letters of gratitude from patients, with one patient writing, “I am 48 years old, and I have never had oral surgery before. I was very afraid going in not knowing what to expect. But my thanks go to Dr. Huckaby, who reassured me everything would be OK. I am most grateful for his expertise, patience, attention, concern and comfort, and most of all his kindness. Thank you for having such a fantastic doctor on your staffâ€¦.”
Huckaby is member of the American Society of Oral Surgeons, and was both a visiting professor and lecturer at his alma mater, Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry. Over the years, Dr. Huckaby has dedicated himself to learning the latest scientific developments in his field in order to provide his patients with the highest quality care.
Civic and business leadership are hallmarks for Huckaby’s stellar career. He serves as secretary of Hope Development, Inc., and is a past board member of the Resource Development Center. He is a member of the Houston Chamber of Commerce and was a founding limited partner in Park Plaza Hospital in Houston.
Highlands Spirit Award — This award will be presented to the new Association of Emeritus and Retired Faculty of New Mexico Highlands University. The organization formed for the first time in the university’s history earlier this year, and its first president, Dr. Leo Martinez, will accept the award.
Emeritus status may be conferred to a professor at retirement and is based on exceptional service and contributions to the university during the professor’s tenure. The professor must have taught full time at Highlands for a minimum of seven consecutive years to be considered for the honor.
“One important purpose of the new Association of Emeritus and Retired Faculty of NMHU is for the members to continue to contribute to the university in their area of expertise,” Martinez said. He a professor emeritus who first served on the faculty as the department chair for the Industrial Arts Department and later as a professor in the School of Education before retiring in 1993.
“We never had an emeritus and retired faculty association like this before, so we didn’t have anything to tie us to Highlands University,” Martinez said. “The association will also have a social benefit. Members will have the chance to get together with former colleagues they worked with while at Highlands.”
Ivan Hilton Award — Carmen Schein will receive this award for the generous endowment she established with Highlands University in 2000 to fund scholarships for Indonesian students.
Schein was born in England and trained as a professional dancer before dancing in Paris for an opera company. Two years after World War II, she immigrated to Washington, D.C. Schein worked for many years as a costume designer for theatrical groups in America and Europe.
Schein first discovered Highlands University in 1964 during a trip to New Mexico. Also a painter and sculptor, she later opened an art gallery in Santa Fe. When her husband died, Schein said she was left with money to invest and wanted to do something to help children. Through her extensive travels, she had developed an interest in Indonesian students.
“I was looking for an institution to help Indonesian students, and it was Highlands that responded and helped me,” Schein said.
The most recent recipient of the Schein Scholarship is Jacoba Dewi Tapiheru from Djkarta, the capital of Indonesia. She is a freshman majoring in business with a minor in math.
For all the Highlands University homecoming activities check out its Web site at www.nmhu.edu/homecoming