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NMSU alum to return as faculty after earning doctorate

Former New Mexico State University student Steven Sandoval is completing his doctoral studies at Arizona State University, and in a few years will return to NMSU to join the College of Engineering faculty.



Former New Mexico State University student Steven Sandoval is completing his doctoral studies at Arizona State University, and in a few years will return to NMSU to join the College of Engineering faculty. (Courtesy Photo)

Sandoval, an electrical engineering student, has earned a grant from the Minority Doctoral Assistance Loan for Service Program, and as per the agreement, will secure a faculty position at his alma mater.

"This program will allow me to pursue my own goals and enable me to encourage Hispanic and other underrepresented students to pursue their own educational and career goals," he said. "I had previously considered teaching, and the opportunity to teach in my hometown made that option all the more desirable."

NMSU is providing Sandoval part of the loan. For each year of service provided, one year of the loan will be forgiven.

Working with a group of collaborators, Sandoval has focused his research on developing methods and tools to enhance treatment of motor speech disorders in clinical settings.

"Such tools can be used to assess the efficacy of any provided treatment or to monitor the progression of a disease state," he said. "A key task in the development of such tools is to develop methods for estimating and understanding speech intelligibility."

Sandoval said he hopes to replace subjective intelligibility tests which are often unreliable due to inconsistency, costliness and bias.

"Research has shown poor reliability in clinical assessment," he added. "Clinicians working with patients form a bias based on their interactions, resulting in intelligibility assessments of limited validity and reliability. It is for this reason that the development of cheap, unbiased, repeatable and automated methods has gained interest."

Sandoval is a graduate of Onate High School. He earned his bachelor's degree in 2007 and his master's in 2010.

"The decision to study electrical engineering was a natural one for me," he said. "I grew up liking math and was always fascinated by computers and electronics."

As a master's candidate, Sandoval worked as a research assistant for Phillip DeLeon, electrical engineering professor, in collaboration with fellow professor Laura Boucheron.

"Steven was an exceptionally bright and creative researcher," DeLeon recalled. "The work he did for his master's thesis resulted in a published IEEE Transactions journal paper, and that's pretty impressive for a master's electrical engineering student. We were looking at some advanced technologies in speech processing, and Steven's research led to patent application for a speech coding. He did superb work with us."

As a student, Sandoval was a member of the NMSU Flying Aggies and participated in NASA's Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program, a national competition for flight slots.

"All three of my team's projects were accepted and two were tested aboard NASA's KC-135 at Johnson Space Center," he said.

As a member of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship at Caltech, Sandoval completed an internship at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and another at Honeywell International.

While earning his two degrees from NMSU, he worked a systems analysis position at White Sands Missile Range.

He anticipates graduating in spring 2015.