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Jet set biology professor at NMSU racks up more miles as 'Road Warrior'

There she goes again.

Five people posing on outdoor steps with four standing and one sitting
Cover of American Airlines Magazine featuring NMSU biology professor Michele Nishiguchi (left) and the other top five "Road Warriors." (Photo by Robert Dahey)
Woman smiling and leaning behind two platters of desserts
NMSU biologist Michele Nishiguchi leans over a plate of chocolate treats at the Grand Del Mar resort in San Diego. (Photo by Kaitlin Backlund)
Woman with arms raised, standing in a fountain.
Biologist Michele Nishiguchi poses for photo in a fountain at the Grand Del Mar resort as one of the top five winners of the 11th annual American Airlines Road Warriors Contest. (Photo by Kaitlin Backlund)

New Mexico State University biology professor Michele Nishiguchi is off to another exotic destination, conducting research on the bioluminescent bacteria found in bobtail squid. This time, she is at Botany Bay in Australia until April 5, where she will collect live squid for her NMSU lab.

Having traveled all over the world, she might call herself a frequent flyer. But American Airlines calls her a "road warrior." Nishiguchi was recently featured in the March 15, issue of American Way magazine as a top five winner in the 11th Annual Road Warrior Contest.

The article describes her research at NMSU and the process she uses to fly the squid from Australia to the United States, as well as personal details like her role model, Jacques Cousteau, and her favorite candy.

"It was pretty funny to have folks ask for your autograph on the magazine," Nishiguchi said. "This happened earlier this week when I was flying. People are also telling me how cool my research is and that it's neat to see a female researcher being a celebrity as well."

Out of the thousands of entries, Nishiguchi won third place in the annual contest. Her prizes included a music sound system with headphones, an electronic notepad, a smart phone and a set of luggage. She also received a pass into the Admirals Clubs, deluxe sunglasses and 200,000 frequent flyer miles.

As part of her warrior status, Nishiguchi took part in a two-day photo shoot in January, receiving a celebrity makeover for the shoot's "opulence" theme.

"There was a theme associated with each person," Nishiguchi said. "Since I am a marine biologist, they did a photo of me dancing in the fountain with all the other road warriors trying to pull me out."

They stayed at the Grand Del Mar resort in San Diego and had the opportunity for local sightseeing and whale watching. Nishiguchi, accompanied by Kaitlin Backlund, a best friend from college, toured the U.S.S. Midway and took advantage of the hotel amenities.

"I had to leave early, because of grant deadlines, so I did not go out and whale watch," Nishiguchi said. "I've seen lots of gray whales before."

"One very special touch was when we arrived at the hotel, room service brought some of my favorite things - Zico coconut water, steamed edamame and dark chocolate," Nishiguchi said.

Nishiguchi said for years friends have encouraged her to enter the contest, but this was the first time she did so.

She said this year's rules for the contest required the use of 10 idioms in an essay explaining exactly why the person should be named a road warrior. There was also a short set of questions to answer. Nishiguchi said her story was then selected and posted online for a month before readers chose hers as a favorite.

"I'm a celebrity on American Airlines," Nishiguchi said. "When I flew on Tuesday, I had a lot of folks recognize me on both flights, including our local ground crew at El Paso International Airport. They know me well because I fly so much with AA. The video of the photo shoot has also been playing on some flights, so I'm on that video as well."

To view the American Way magazine story featuring Nishiguchi visit http://hub.aa.com/en/aw/spoils-of-the-victors?zonemode=page_4 .