Former valedictorian earns top academic award

By Thomas Guengerich: New Mexico Tech News Service

SOCORRO — A former Tucumcari High School valedictorian won one of the top academic awards at the commencement ceremonies of New Mexico Tech on May 15.

Clay Beevers, a 2006 Tucumcari grad, won the Cramer Award, which is given to the top engineering student at the science and engineering university in Socorro. Beevers earned his bachelor’s in chemical engineering in four years and is nearly finished with his master’s degree in materials engineering.

The Cramer Awards were established to honor Tom Cramer, an engineer and a member of the Tech Board of Regents for 26 years. They are awarded to the male and female seniors graduating in engineering who rank highest in scholarship. Each recipient receives a framed certificate and $200.

“There’s a lot of people smarter than me here at New Mexico Tech, but I had the dedication and work ethic that helped me succeed,” he said. “I had some excellent mentors on the faculty who were big influences on me, my studies and my research.”

Dr. Corey Leclerc said Beevers is an unassuming student who is easy-going and was never presumed to be a top student. He said faculty members were often surprised to find out that the casual kid from Tucumcari was actually one of the top-performing students on campus.

“When you talk to Clay, you don’t get the impression that he’s one of the top students … but he was,” Leclerc said. “He jokes around and he’s not always serious. But in class, he asked questions that were insightful and you knew he was always paying attention.”

Throughout his four years at Tech, Beevers worked in Dr. Leclerc’s laboratory. His first research project was highly specific studies of generating biodiesel from algae. After starting his master’s program, he began a research assignment on aqueous phase ethanol reforming. In short, he ran experiments on how to produce hydrogen gas from liquid ethanol for potential fuel cell applications.

“Research is critical,” Beevers said. “That’s one of our major advantages at New Mexico Tech. The vast majority of students have research opportunities here that aren’t available at other universities.”

Leclerc said Beevers separated himself from other student researchers through initiative and independence.

“If there was equipment we didn’t have, he would go find it,” Leclerc said. “He is very resourceful and that, by far, is the thing that sets him apart. He never lets barriers stop him from getting research done.”

Beevers’ academic accomplishments helped him land a highly competitive internship at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and University of Colorado in 2009. He has stayed active in a variety of other activities. He volunteered for educational outreach projects at local schools in Socorro and helped run events at the state Science Olympiad. He has also served as a state Science Fair judge for the past two years. Earlier this year, Beevers was a finalist for engineering student of the year by the New Mexico chapter of the Society of Professional Engineers.

Beevers, who served as student body president for two years at Tucumcari High, knew as a high school student that he wanted to become an engineer. However, he also recognized that Tucumcari High did not offer the requisite courses or extracurricular challenges to prepare him for the rigors of New Mexico Tech.

“We didn’t have enough science programs in Tucumcari to get students interested,” he said. “We had a small interest in the Science Fair, but no Science Olympiad. I didn’t even know what MESA was until I came to Tech and that’s when I realized where Tucumcari High School stood with the rest of the state.”

To help prepare himself for the rigors of Tech’s curriculum, he enrolled in calculus and physics at Mesalands Community College.

“That was a great choice for me,” he said. “I knew I’d be behind everyone else if I didn’t get some basic science courses. Luckily, Dr. Philip Kaatz was offering the courses and he did his best to make sure I had the necessary background.”

Nevertheless, he found Tech to be extremely challenging and difficult. During his first two years, he saw several friends leave Socorro because they couldn’t keep up with their studies.

“I got discouraged at times. I could always see the light in the tunnel but I didn’t know if it was the end or the oncoming train.” he said. “Tech is tough, but the rewards are worth it. You wonder if you made the right decision up until you get that first paycheck, then you feel much better.”

For high school students interested in math, science and engineering, Beevers offered a bit of advice: Be prepared to work hard, stay focused and take as many math and science courses in high school as possible.

He added, “Never make excuses for yourself, there are enough people that will try and do that for you.”

Currently Beevers is back in Socorro finishing up his master’s, which he expects to complete by August. Meanwhile, he’s considering various job offers from high tech companies in Albuquerque.