Notable Alumni & Faculty
This small list showcases a few of the changemakers who have come through UNM to learn and to teach. The alumni listed were all undergraduates in A&S and many started to form the foundational ideas that would influence their careers while undergraduates here.
As the first-ever Diné/Navajo to earn a Ph.D. in history, Denetdale is a strong advocate for Native peoples and strives to foster academic excellence in the next generation of students interested in Indigenous Studies. A professor of American Studies, she teaches courses in Critical Indigenous Studies, Indigenous gender and sexuality, Indigenous feminisms and gender, and Navajo Studies.
Edgar Lee Hewett
Edgar Lee Hewett is a very important figure in cultural preservation of the Southwest. In an effort to prevent further looting and destruction of ancient sites in the Southwest, he drafted the 1906 Antiquities Act, which laid the groundwork for the formation of National Parks and other public lands. He conducted the first formal excavations of Chaco Canyon, an Ancestral Pueblo site and major center of trade and commerce in the pre-contact Americas. He also started the Anthropology & Archaeology programs at UNM and the first museum in New Mexico.
Florence Hawley Ellis
Florence Hawley Ellis was a true innovator in the field of archaeology at a time when women were overtly barred from participating in many academic programs. She was one of the first researchers to focus on tree ring dating and an interdisciplinary STEM approach to understand the chronology of cultural artifacts. She "broke new ground in archeology through use of dendrochronology, statistical analysis, chemical analysis, ethnohistory, and ethnoarcheology -- often, all together." (NPS) She first came to New Mexico to attend one of Edgar Lee Hewett's field schools, one of the few that invited women to join.
Alfonso Ortiz was a member of the Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh, and was groundbreaking in his cultural anthropology work on the worldview of Pueblo people. Cultural Anthropology had previously consisted primarily of outsiders going in to other cultures, but Ortiz took a mirror to himself to examine his own culture, prompting a massive self-reflexive shift in the field of Cultural Anthropology. Ortiz believed that scholarship about American Indian people should not be limited to universities and academics, but that members of Indian communities should undertake it as well. He received a Macarthur Fellowship (Genius Grant) for his work and a Guggenheim Fellowship along with many other accolades.
Louis Lamphere is a pioneering figure in Cultural Anthropology, particularly in the field of feminist anthropology. She, along with Michelle Z. Rosaldo, created and edited the first collection of anthropological writings with a feminist viewpoint, Woman, Culture, and Society. This collection upended th previously unquestioned male viewpoints within the field of anthropology, shedding new light on the importance of recognizing one's own subjectivity when conducting research.
Tony Hillerman was a journalist and writer of the Southwest, well known for his novel series about Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, detectives on the Navajo Nation.
Deb Haaland is the first Native American Secretary of the Interior. Prior to that, she was one of the first two Native American women elected to the House of Representatives in 2019. The congresswoman is a 35th generation New Mexican and an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna, and also has Jemez Pueblo heritage. She did not enter UNM straight out of high school, but started her college journey as an older student. The proud UNM alumna graduated from the University in 1994 with an English degree and went on to graduate from UNM School of Law in 2006.
Rudolfo Anaya is considered a foundational author in contemporary Chicano literature. He is best known for his novel Bless Me, Ultima, steeped New Mexican culture, which he started writing while at UNM. He received his Master's degree in English from UNM, and taught creative writing in the department as well. He has won numerous awards, including a National Humanities Medal in 2015 "for his pioneering stories of the American southwest. His works of fiction and poetry celebrate the Chicano experience and reveal universal truths about the human condition—and as an educator, he has spread a love of literature to new generations."
Leslie Marmon Silko
Leslie Marmon Silko is a world-renowned writer, best known for Ceremony, a highly lyrical groundbreaking book which weaves together prose and poetry. She is of Laguna Pueblo, Mexican, and White heritage, and grew up in New Mexico. She received the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (MacArthur "Genius Grant") the first year it was available for her innovative work, particularly for using storytelling to promote the cultural survival of Native American people.
Joy Harjo (Mvskoke) is the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States. She studied Creative Writing and started her first poetry chapbooks with the Kiva Club as an undergraduate. She later taught Creative Writing at UNM, and one of her students was Deb Haaland!
N. Scott Momaday
B.A. 1958 Political Science
N. Scott Momaday (Kiowa) is the first Native American person to win a Pulitzer Prize for his book House Made of Dawn. He has won many other award for his writing, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and the National Medal for Arts.
Edward Abbey is most widely known for his formative environmental work Desert Solitaire which "articulates the spirit of the American West" (UNM Press). This book spurred national movements to protect and preserve the natural wonders of the United States. He is also celebrated for The Monkey Wrench Gang, also about environmental activism. His writing questioned the way things were, and offered insight into how they could be.
Lincoln LaPaz essentially invented the field of Meteoritics. At a time when meteorites were viewed mostly as curiosities, he took them seriously as a scientific field of study. What can they teach us about other planets? The universe? The formation of earth itself? He was also the founder of UNM's Institute for Meteoritics.
Murray Gell-Man won the Nobel Prize in 1969 for his work on the theory of elementary particles.