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NMSU presents honorary degree to Dan E. Arvizu during fall commencement

Dan E. Arvizu has traveled an amazing career path since he first walked onto New Mexico State University?s campus in 1968.


Man standing with arms crossed
Dan E. Arvizu received an honorary doctorate during New Mexico State University?s fall commencement in recognition of his accomplishments in renewable and sustainable energy research of which is one of the world?s leading expert. (Courtesy photo)

He is one of the world?s leading experts in the fields of renewable and sustainable energy and one of the top 20 Hispanic scientists and engineers in America.

NMSU honored that path during the 2015 fall commencement on Saturday, Dec. 12, by presenting Arvizu with an honorary doctorate.

?When I came to New Mexico State, the extent of my plans was to study engineering at its excellent engineering school,? said the Alamogordo High School graduate.

As the first member of his immigrant family to attend college, Arvizu began a journey that has taken him to all parts of the world.

He shared some of the discoveries he has made during that journey with the doctoral graduates during a hooding ceremony Friday evening on campus.

He talked about the ingredients for success, such as preparation, persistence, partnership and passion in the thing that a person does.

Arvizu?s retirement on Nov. 30 marked the conclusion of his career associated with research laboratories. For the last 10 years, Arvizu has been the director and chief executive officer of the U.S. Department of Energy?s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

Arvizu also served as executive vice president with MRIGlobal, an independent not-for-profit laboratory that has conducted scientific research for government and industry since 1944. Its programs span the areas of national security and defense, life sciences, energy, engineering and agriculture and food safety.

?My interest in science was sparked in fifth grade and grew throughout high school,? he said.

He attributes that nurturing of his scientific curiosity to federal funding provided to Alamogordo School District in support of Holloman Air Force Base children attending the public schools.

?I got my first exposure to NMSU during my calculus class in 12th grade,? he said. ?Our teacher was an NMSU professor.?

A gifted trumpet player and his high school band?s president, Arvizu received a music scholarship to NMSU. While studying engineering, he played in the marching band, symphony and pep band.

As with most students, college was all about discovery for Arvizu.

?One of my first discoveries was what opportunities an education really unlocks,? he said.

?By my sophomore year, I had already discovered the bigger world. I had gone from the small town of Alamogordo to Las Cruces and then to Dallas to work with Texas Instruments as a co-op student, alternating semesters between NMSU and Texas Instruments.

?It was a marvelous opportunity that gave me really good exposure to what the engineering profession was all about,? he said. ?It?s been quite a ride ever since. I?ve been at it for 40 years.?

After graduating from NMSU in 1973, Arvizu began his career at AT&T Bell Laboratories.

?While at Bell Labs, I was doing some revolutionary work on what we call convective cooling for the first solid-state systems that Bell Labs was designing,? he said. ?This was about the cooling of electronic equipment, which today is still a very important topic.?

During that time, he returned to school to complete his master?s and doctoral degrees at Stanford University. His emphasis was in heat transfer and fluid flow.

?Education is really about learning how to learn,? he said. ?Advanced degrees are really about developing the critical thinking skills that are necessary to really navigate in this increasingly complex world we live in.?

Arvizu?s scientific inquiries shifted to solar power after the Department of Energy, a new agency under President Jimmy Carter?s administration, began research on solar energy.

?I was a pioneer. No one else was doing that kind of work,? he said. ?I get a tremendous satisfaction in how technology has progressed and that I?ve had some small part in making those breakthroughs occur.?

Along the way, he has served two six-year terms on the National Science Board, the governing board of the National Science Foundation, to which he was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2004 and President Barack Obama in 2010.

Arvizu is a strong supporter of STEM ? science, technology, engineering and math ? education.

?One of my passions is STEM education in general,? he said. ?The skill level of the general workforce, in terms of technical skills, is much more demanding than before.?

There is an ever-growing need for professionals who are in the STEM fields, he noted ? especially underrepresented minorities and women.

?We?ve got work to do,? he said. ?It starts at the elementary school level. We need more focus on STEM subjects throughout the pipeline of our training and education.?

Arvizu takes pride in his involvement in training another generation of professional scientists and engineers while at NREL and now in retirement, as he becomes a visiting professor at Stanford University.

?The scientists who were inspired by the early years of aerospace, like I was, are now retiring,? he said. ?It has been exciting to have the younger generation join NREL with their enthusiasm, creativity and innovation.?

Arvizu?s life path is coming full circle as he heads back to Stanford University in January to teach energy transformation.

?I?m very pleased to get an opportunity to be on campus and work with graduate students,? he said. ?They are really smart and enthusiastic. It?s going to be fun.?