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NMSU honors Regents Professors during Spring Convocation

Two new Regents Professorships were awarded Tuesday morning at New Mexico State University's Spring Convocation Jan. 13. The 2009 Regents Professors are Nancy V. Baker, government and Elba E. Serrano, biology.

New Mexico State University professor of government Nancy Baker and New Mexico State University professor of biology Elba Serrano were named 2009 Regents Professors at NMSU's Spring Convocation.

"Regents Professorships are considered the highest academic honor," said NMSU interim Executive Vice President and Provost Robert D. Moulton. "Through Regents, we can keep our best and brightest by honoring top faculty for the contributions they make to the community."

The Regents Professorship, established in 2001 by the New Mexico State University Board of Regents, recognizes faculty who have made outstanding contributions to the university's mission and to honor contributions in areas of education, research, extension education and public service. This year's Regents Professors join 28 current holders of the professorship.

"They are both examples of the integrated scholar," said College of Arts & Sciences Dean Pamela Jansma. "They've taken what it means to be a professor and a scholar to the highest level."

Baker, who has been at NMSU nearly 20 years, is a nationally and internationally recognized scholar, whose work examines the operation of law in the executive branch, specifically the American Presidency and the Justice Department. She's received NMSU's Westhafer Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Rousch Award twice, among others. Baker also serves as head of the government department.

"I feel deeply honored by my selection because this is such a significant award," Baker said. "Its scope encompasses all that we do -- in teaching, scholarship and service to the campus, the community and our professions. I also feel honored because of the outstanding caliber of the other Regents Professors and so many other faculty at NMSU whom I admire. Ideally, we would have the resources to recognize and reward all of the faculty who have so enriched the educational environment while spending their professional lives at NMSU."

For Baker, the author of two scholarly books on the presidency, 2008 was a banner year. "I enjoy the dynamic nature of presidential studies," Baker said. "Just look at the historic events we've witnessed in the past decade - from a special prosecutor probe and an impeachment, to an electoral college misfire and a winner essentially selected by the Supreme Court, from the unprecedented centralization of executive power following 9/11, to a primary campaign that saw the first viable female and African-American candidates, and a general election that has brought Barack Obama to the Oval Office. It's both compelling and a fascinating reflection of our times."

"She's extremely approachable for students," Jansma said. "Nancy has won numerous teaching awards. She's very exuberant in everything she does. That makes her shine as a professor."

"Elba is an excellent interdisciplinary scientist," Jansma added. "She is committed to students at both the graduate and undergraduate level. Elba is highly respected and excellent at fundraising."

Serrano, with 17 years at NMSU, is hailed as an outstanding teacher, adviser and mentor of students in a wide range of subjects as well as an accomplished researcher. Her work in neuroscience and nanobiotechnology has garnered more than $6 million in research grants. She feels the Regents Professorship carries with it a great responsibility.

"I believe that my professorial achievements have been possible because NMSU, its students, staff, and faculty have provided me with the opportunities and challenges that motivated me to grow and develop as a scientist and a teacher."

In January 2008, Serrano assumed directorship of NMSU's National Institutes of Health Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program to increase the number of underrepresented minority students who achieve Ph.D. degrees, a mission that is close to her heart.

"As a first generation college graduate and the daughter of a U.S. Army non-commissioned officer, I am grateful for the American K-20 educational system that enabled me to compete for scholarships and ultimately, to earn bachelor's and doctoral degrees in the sciences," Serrano said. "I think in our eagerness to solve problems with our educational system we sometimes forget that we have the most open access system in the world."

Regents Professor Emeritus Thomas M. Gale has headed up the selection committee for the Regents Professorships since its inception. A panel of Regents Professors reviews individual nominations submitted by faculty throughout the university then meets as a committee to determine the awards. The honor carries with it an annual $12,500 stipend.

Gale says it is always difficult to make a choice from so many talented candidates. "It's such an important honor because these are people who have been singled out by their colleagues," Gale said . "Each has been nominated by someone from the faculty. They are outstanding in their academic work for the university and have made an important name for themselves at a local and national level."