AFRL recognizes 2023 New Mexico Excellence in STEM at annual awards event

  • Published
  • By Alarie Ray-Garcia
  • Air Force Research Laboratory

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFRL) – Teachers, students, businesses and volunteers were recognized as winners at the 2023 New Mexico Excellence in STEM Awards, or STEMYS, an event hosted by the Air Force Research Laboratory’s, or AFRL, Tech Engagement Office in June. The annual awards honor individuals and organizations in New Mexico who have made significant contributions to science, technology, engineering and math education. 
The award ceremony and dinner for this year’s event were held at Q Station, the Tech Engagement Office’s collaborative facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Col. Jeremy Raley, director of AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate and commander of AFRL’s Phillips Research Site,  highlighted the Air Force’s unwavering commitment to STEM education during the event and its crucial role in preparing the future workforce. 
Gabe Mounce, AFRL Tech Engagement Office director, expressed his admiration for the 2023 STEMY winners and their exceptional work in STEM education. 

“The 2023 STEM winners are an outstanding group of individuals and organizations that are doing great work in STEM education,” Mounce said. “We had so many accomplished nominees this year that it was difficult to narrow down the list. That is a testament to the qualifications of this year’s winners and the strength of STEM education initiatives in New Mexico overall.” 

The inception of these awards by the Tech Engagement Office in 2018 was driven by the realization that the remarkable STEM endeavors throughout the state were largely unrecognized beyond the STEM community. The goal was to transform it into a statewide celebration. The geographic diversity of this year’s winners demonstrated that intention, as they hailed from Albuquerque, Socorro, Los Alamos, Tucumcari, Las Cruces and Southeastern New Mexico. 
Among the distinguished honorees was Jennifer Nilvo, a teacher at Valencia County’s School of Dreams. Nilvo was recognized for her exceptional contributions to building one of the most robust STEM programs in the state. She successfully secured funding for the state’s only BioSafety Level 1 and 2 STEM Research Lab within a public K-12 school. 
The event also acknowledged the achievements of three standout students: Aaron Chand, a rising junior from Tucumcari, had a 6th place finish at the 2022 Global Conference of Educational Robotics Competition; Ixchel Valentino, a homeschool graduate, was recognized for numerous robotics awards accumulated since kindergarten; and Journey Allison, a middle-school student, demonstrated exceptional aptitude by enrolling in college-level math classes. 
The awards encompassed various categories, including mentors, coaches, advisers, non-profits, schools, higher education and businesses. Individual winners were rewarded with $1,500 scholarships. 
The selected winners include: 
1.    Student K-8: Journey Allison - Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science 

2.    Student 9-12: Ixchel Valentino – Homeschool 

3.    Student 9-12: Aaron Chand - Tucumcari High School 

4.    Educator K-8: Carolyn Torres - Chamisa Elementary (White Rock) 

5.    Educator 9-12: Jennifer Nilvo - School of Dreams Academy 

6.    School: Desert Willow Family School 

7.    Higher Ed: Engineering Student Success Center - University of New Mexico 

8.    Advisor/Coach: La Tonya Jenkins - Greater ABQ National Society of Black Engineers Jr. Chapter 

9.    Mentor: Dr. Curtis O’Malley - New Mexico Tech 

10.    Non-Profit: Asombro Institute for Science Education 

11.    Small Business: Construction Survey Technologies Inc. 

12.    Large Business: Permian Strategic Partnership 
The 2023 New Mexico Excellence in STEM Awards not only celebrated the achievements of the winners but also underscored the significance of STEM education in shaping the future of New Mexico’s workforce. With the support of the AFRL Tech Engagement Office, the state continues to foster a thriving ecosystem that encourages and recognizes excellence in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. 

For more information about AFRL Stem outreach in New Mexico, visit