Sarah Corey-Rivas Named Professor of the Year

Las Vegas, N.M.– New Mexico Highlands University has named
biology professor Sarah Corey-Rivas Professor of the Year for the 2018 – 2019
academic year.

Photo of Sarah Corey-Rivas
Sarah Corey-Rivas

spring an independent selection committee
composed of students, faculty and staff reviews the nominations for Professor
of the Year and selects a winner.

Corey-Rivas said she is touched that her students
nominated her for Professor of the Year. “This award helps me know that the
respect and admiration I feel for my students is mutual.”

Megan Thursby, a 2018 Highlands biology
graduate who was accepted to a Ph.D. program at the University of New Mexico in
biomedical sciences, was one of the students who nominated Corey-Rivas for the

“I was not only inspired by Dr. Corey-Rivas’
brilliant intelligence and creativity but moved as a woman in science to
believe in my abilities as a contributor to society,” Thursby wrote in her
nomination letter. “When someone is enrolled in a class with Dr. Corey-Rivas,
he or she can expect to catch her infectious desire to embrace knowledge.”

Estrella Gutierrez, another 2018 Highlands
biology graduate, also nominated Corey-Rivas for the award.

“Dr. Corey-Rivas is an empowering and
compelling individual who strives for the success of her students,” Gutierrez wrote.
“She has helped undergraduate students by hiring local students who never knew
they had the capability to become successful in research, as I have. As Lailah
Gifty Akita said, ‘Every great achiever is inspired by a great mentor.’ Dr. Corey-Rivas
is inspiring a new age of innovators.”

Blanca Cespedes, a forestry professor at
Highlands, also nominated Corey-Rivas for Professor of the Year.

“Dr. Corey-Rivas’ teaching capacities are
very strong, creative and admirable,” Cespedes wrote. “She is a brilliant
stimulus for students. Dr. Corey-Rivas stresses the importance of maintaining
creativity and imagination in science.”

Corey-Rivas earned her Ph.D. in evolution and ecology from Ohio State University in 2009, and in 2010 joined the faculty of Highlands, where she established a molecular ecology laboratory.

At Highlands, Corey-Rivas teaches classes in advanced ecology, macroevolution, molecular
ecology and general biology 1. She said research is an important component of
all her classes. “Research is how students develop critical thinking through
problem solving. It’s also exciting, fun and creative because it’s on the edge
of mysteries we don’t know.”

Corey-Rivas said her primary research focus
is conservation genetics and disease management. Her research
has been published in scholarly publications such as Molecular Ecology,
Diversity and Distributions, and Herpetological Review. Other species of concern in Corey-Rivas’
research include bison, leopard frogs and garter snakes.   

Corey-Rivas has garnered a number of research
grants for Highlands, including a $439,500 grant through New Mexico INBRE, Idea
Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence, a National Institutes of Health

“For the past five years, with INBRE research
funds, I’ve focused primarily upon a genome-level study of the threatened
boreal toad, which means examining a collection of all its genes,” said
Corey-Rivas. This toad’s immune system’s response to deadly pathogens is the
main reason for its serious decline in the Rocky Mountains. More than 10
Highlands students have worked with me on this research.”

said she uses creative independent projects to encourage students to develop
critical thinking skills.

“The key
is to let students struggle in a structured, supportive environment where they
develop the mental muscles to persevere in science,” Corey-Rivas said. “All of
this academic preparation allows students to go into a professional job or
graduate school and have confidence they can solve complex real-world science

Corey-Rivas said the most exciting thing
about teaching is to see students find their own identity as scientists and

“The Highlands students’ capacity for
academic progress and achievement is incredible to see and pushes me to work
just as hard. I firmly see myself as a facilitator of learning, meaning I get
to help students figure out the kind of scientist they want to be.”