Christina Salas and Laura Schaefer
By Michael Haederle

Academic Accolade

Health Sciences Bioengineer Christina Salas Honored with Inaugural UNM Ovation Award

Biomechanical engineer Christina Salas, PhD, MSc, an associate professor in The University of New Mexico Department of Orthopaedics & Rehabilitation, is among the inaugural recipients of the UNM Ovation Award.

The awards recognize full-time UNM faculty members for recent accomplishments with unusually high impact, addressing local or global challenges and/or elevating the scholar's and UNM's reputation on a national/international stage.

Salas, who has additional appointments in the School of Engineering, was selected for her role in organizing an effort to create face masks using 3D printing technology to meet the acute need for personal protective equipment in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the summer of 2020 Salas and her colleagues delivered thousands of masks across the Navajo Nation, along with face shields, hand sanitizer and donations of food, water and diapers.

“It was a complete surprise to me,” Salas said of the Ovation award. “When we first started the mask-making effort I didn’t do it for recognition. It was just something where I asked, ‘How can we help?’”

Salas and a friend, flight nurse Laura Shaffer, launched the mask-printing project after Shaffer found hospital workers in Gallup improvising personal protective equipment from bandanas and plastic bags. Working out of the UNM COSMIAC facility, Salas and her student volunteers turned out the plastic masks based on her novel design.


Christina Salas, PhD
It’s great to be recognized, but I often feel like it was the work of many of us. We were running a 12/7 effort during those first few months.
β€” Christina Salas, PhD

“It’s great to be recognized, but I often feel like it was the work of many of us,” she says. “We were running a 12/7 effort during those first few months.”

Reflecting on her pandemic project, Salas says, “It was a very unique experience. It’s still difficult to think about some of the things we saw and some of the people we helped, even today.”

The Ovation Award is not the first time Salas has been honored for her work during the pandemic. In 2020 InStyle magazine included her and Shaffer in a special feature, “The Badass 50, Healthcare Workers Who Are Saving the Day.”

And in 2021 Salas received the Dolores Huerta Sí Se Puede Award from the Recuerda a César Chávez Committee, a local organization the celebrates the legacy of the late labor organizer and civil rights leader.

Salas has always been motivated to serve others. When she visits relatives in Texas she volunteers at the local food pantry and makes deliveries to a homeless shelter. And when she embarked on a career in biomechanical engineering she sought to make a difference for others.

“I appreciate giving back to the community,” she says. “I knew that that’s the impact I wanted to have.” In her engineering role, developing a new surgical procedure or an implant that orthopedic surgeons can use with their patients can have “an exponential impact,” she says. “I feel like I’m a problem solver and I can teach others to be problem solvers.”

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