New Mexico State University professors Michael Hout, psychology associate professor, and Tiziana Giorgi, mathematical sciences professor, will be spending the next year, with the option of a second year in Alexandria, Virginia, working as program directors for the National Science Foundation.
Giorgi was selected as program director in the Applied Mathematics Program of the Division of Mathematical Sciences while Hout will serve as program director for the Perception, Action, and Cognition Program in the Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences.
“These appointments demonstrate the outstanding caliber of our faculty at NMSU,” said Enrico Pontelli, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The NSF recognizes Dr. Hout and Dr. Giorgi’s research accomplishments and ability to help other researchers as well.”
Their appointments begin this month. Both Giorgi and Hout will be on professional leave from NMSU while working with the NSF and will return to NMSU after their service.
“It will involve duties like overseeing grant reviews and panels, providing feedback to applicants and ultimately deciding which grants get funded in my area,” Hout said. “During my time in Virginia, I'll be on unpaid professional leave, but still will maintain my research labs and mentorship here at NMSU as the NSF allows me a considerable amount of time for my research duties.”
Giorgi hopes to work on building bridges between students and the job market. She will be in a position to encourage principal investigators on NSF research grants to spend some of their time thinking about how to organically join the research of their students with training for jobs inside or outside academia.
“I hope that my tenure at the NSF will help me better understand the philosophy and mechanisms of government initiatives, so as to better advise my colleagues on grant proposals, and students on future job placement,” Giorgi said. “Also, I hope to become engaged at a higher level with various professional organizations to help them become more effective in spanning the gap between the math profession and the job market.”
Mathematics professor and department head John Harding praised Giorgi’s abilities.
“The rotator position at the NSF is recognition that Tiziana is an outstanding researcher,” Harding said. “It is a tremendous opportunity for her and a great benefit to our department. She will help guide research in the field at the highest level, and bring back to the department insight into the direction of the major funding agency. We will miss her, and look forward to her return.”
After completing his seventh year at NMSU, Hout serves as the director of the Vision Sciences and Memory Laboratory in the Department of Psychology and is co-director of the multi-disciplinary Addison Care Virtual and Augmented Reality Laboratory with kinesiology department head Philip Post.
Hout’s research falls under the broad heading of visual cognition, including research into visual attention and memory and computational models of both.
“I wouldn't have taken the NSF position if it meant stepping away from my research, my labs or my mentored students at NMSU,” Hout said. “As such, I'll be juggling my work with the NSF and my research and mentorship duties throughout. Luckily, much of what I do can be done remotely or in collaboration with my students who are ‘on the ground’ in my labs. What can't be done remotely will be done during my periodic trips back to NMSU.”
Hout is grateful to Pontelli and psychology department head Dominic Simon for their support in taking the NSF position.
“Based on his performance as a faculty member since he was hired by NMSU in 2013, I am certain that Mike will be a great asset to NSF, giving him the chance to see and to influence the bigger picture of research on perception, action and cognition within the U.S., and because of the strong influence that American research has on trends elsewhere, throughout the world,” Simon said. “We wish him well for his time away, but of course, we’ll also be very pleased to have him back in the department once his rotation as a director is completed.”
Giorgi’s primary research focus is in nonlinear partial differential equations with a current emphasis on applications to liquid crystals and display technology. She has been awarded several NSF grants, the most recent of which is a collaborative research proposal on field-induced mesophases.
Her current NSF award will be on hold while Giorgi serves her appointment as an NSF director but will devote some of her time to research-connected duties at NMSU.
“I will continue my research as well as advising my doctoral student in partial differential equations,” Giorgi said. “I will be traveling back to NMSU and visiting other universities periodically throughout the year for ongoing professional collaboration.”
A number of other NMSU faculty previously have been selected by the NSF to serve in these NSF appointments, which result in a benefit not only for the professors’ careers, but also for the NMSU students they engage when they return to campus.
“While we will miss them, they will continue their research remotely and mentor graduate students,” Pontelli said. “What they bring back to NMSU from their experience will significantly benefit our students.”