News

Gil Herrera awarded UNM Lobo Award

By Mollie Rappe

Photography By Randy Montoya

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Gil Herrera
In 2007, the Labs dedicated a statue of Willis Whitfield, pictured on the right, who invented the laminar airflow clean room at Sandia in 1964. The invention is widely recognized as having played an indispensable role in enabling the microelectronics revolution of subsequent decades. Gil Herrera, left, director of Microsystems Science and Technology Center 1700, gave Willis, his wife Belva and son James a behind-the-scenes tour of Bldg. 858’s microfab facilities.

Gil Herrera, longtime director of Sandia's Microsystems Science and Technology Center 1700, has been awarded the University of New Mexico Alumni Association's Lobo Award, which recognizes a UNM alumnus who has given outstanding personal service to the university or whose career achievements reflect credit on the university.

This accolade has been given every year since 1951. The Lobo Award is the most significant Homecoming award. Past recipients include luminaries such as Bess Popejoy, Tony Hillerman, and James Zimmerman. Gil, as well as the Inspirational Young Alumnus Award and Zia Award recipients, were honored at an Alumni Association breakfast Oct. 17 in Albuquerque.

Gil, who is currently serving as the director of the Laboratory for Physical Sciences at The University of Maryland, College Park, says, "I feel very strongly that we all have a vested interest in improving the state of New Mexico and the two most important institutions to that, Sandia and UNM, have roles to play and we're most effective if we do it together."

Over the years Gil has been on the External Advisory Board for UNM's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, the College of Engineering Advisory Board, and the Community Partners Advisory Council for the College of Education. He was the Sandia deputy campus executive for UNM and has been an adjunct professor of electrical and computer engineering.

"Gil Herrera is a shining example of the innovation and creativity that the UNM School of Engineering is known for," says Joseph Cecchi, dean of the UNM School of Engineering. "Gil has not only passionately served UNM and the school through his dedication, but he has made a significant impact on the nation's science and research footprint. We're proud to call him one of our own."

"[The Lobo Award] was quite an honor and an acknowledgement of the long relationship I've had with UNM and things I've done to try to help support the institution," says Gil.

Synergic service since '74

UNM has had a profound impact on Gil's intellectual development. When he was a freshman at West Mesa High School, Gil participated in a regional science fair held at UNM. During the fair the students were given a tour of a brand-new computer lab, and were taught a bit of programming. Gil was so intrigued he held onto the account and password and later — illicitly — taught himself to program.

About a year later, Gil was caught running a really complicated — and inefficient program — to calculate 1,000 factorial, after using $2,000 worth of computer time. Upon critiquing Gil's algorithm, Professor Mueller of the computer engineering department gave Gil his own legitimate password, provided he never ran his factorial program again. This generous act only fostered Gil's fascination with computers.

After three semesters at West Point and a football career ended by injury, Gil returned to UNM, where he completed his bachelor's degree in computer engineering and became quite active outside of the classroom.

Gil honed his leadership skills while expanding the Hispanic Engineering Organization from a small group of the "smartest students at UNM" to a university-recognized group of more than 100 involved in tutoring and career fairs.

Also, in association with the chairman of the university's math department, Gil taught a Saturday morning computer class to minority and underprivileged kids from Albuquerque. This class inspired some of these students to go into STEM, and led to Gil's first academic presentation at an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference.

Gil is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and serves on an advisory board for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Among his many honors, Gil esteems the three medals he received from the US Army, including the Commander's Award for Civilian Service.