College of Nursing faculty member looking down a microscope in a lab
By Kayleen Schenk

Endowed Professorships

UNM College of Nursing Faculty Members Awarded Funding to Further Their Research

Two University of New Mexico College of Nursing faculty members have been named to endowed professorships, a move that will help them further their research and better serve the health care needs of the state.

Assistant Professor Katherine Zychowski, PhD, was named to the Terry and Alyce Richardson Professorship in Nursing. It is an opportunity to continue her study of the adverse effects of mine site dust and wood smoke, predominantly with the Blue Gap/Tachee Chapter on the Navajo Nation and the Pueblo of Laguna.

Associate Professor Sharon Ruyak, PhD, RN, CNM, has been endowed with the Leah L. Albers Professorship in Midwifery. Her research looks at the biobehavioral effects of chronic stress in pregnant individuals and their babies.


Carolyn Montoya, PhD, RN
Endowed professorships allow us to recruit senior research faculty who have been successful in establishing a robust research portfolio
Carolyn Montoya, PhD, RN

“Endowed professorships, such as these, reflect the College’s commitment to research and developing solutions for the most important nursing challenges pertaining to human health and health equity in our communities,” says Dean Carolyn Montoya, PhD, RN, CPNP. “Additionally, endowed professorships allow us to recruit senior research faculty who have been successful in establishing a robust research portfolio.”

Zychowski began her appointment in the College of Nursing on March 26, 2020, mere weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic.

From working in aquatic ecology to fungal mycotoxins and now studying the biological mechanisms of inhaled toxicants, Zychowski says her timeline as a researcher has led to this cooperative opportunity. She isn’t just researching: she and a cohort of dedicated UNM researchers are dedicated to listening to the communities affected by toxic exposures.

“There are over five hundred abandoned uranium mines spread throughout Southwestern communities we are researching,” Zychowski says. “We will look at particulate matter inhaled from these sites and listen to the testimonies from people who live with the negative effects.”   

Participating in interdisciplinary research where “qualitative efforts lead to quantitative scientific advancement is humbling,” she says. She is honored by former Dean Christine E. Kasper, Dean Montoya and the Richardson family for this opportunity.

This new endowment was established by Terry and Alyce Richardson, avid supporters of nursing education and UNM. Terry – from Albuquerque– and Alyce say they want to support students on their journey through higher education. They heavily participate in UNM’s Austin, Texas, Alumni Chapter by hosting parties between their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Ruyak’s research passion comes from her experiences as a nurse-midwife.

“When I became a nurse, I fell in love with the birth process,” she says. “I was honored to be present for – arguably – the most major transition in a person’s life. But I came to see that it is was about the continuity of care, empowering individuals to make the best reproductive decisions for themselves at each stage of the process.”

This sparked Ruyak’s research pursuits. Her interest in the effects of chronic stress in pregnancy emerged when she noticed a correlation between pregnant mothers who participated in stress-reducing activities like prenatal yoga and the ease of their birthing experiences. That connection drew her to develop a better understanding of the contributions of chronic stress to adverse outcomes for pregnant individuals and their babies. 

Ruyak’s academic and professional careers have continued to develop her love for midwifery. “I am happy for the opportunity to continue my work and become even more familiar with the midwifery community,” she says.

Her plan for this endowment is three-fold: continue her work with pregnant individuals, build on relationships in the UNM, UNM Health & Health Sciences and New Mexico midwifery communities and collaborate with other interdisciplinary science teams to advance the health of mothers and babies. 

This professorship honors Leah. L. Albers, PhD, CNM, emerita professor of the UNM College of Nursing and 2015 “Legends of Nursing” award recipient. Albers’s brother Paul and his wife Leigh Ann started the professorship to honor his sister’s achievements. Her lasting contributions to midwifery and New Mexico nursing continue to inspire today’s researchers and educators.

“This professorship lets me follow a dual research and teaching path,” Ruyak says. “Dr. Albers is an amazing midwife and nurse-researcher. I’m honored to be a part of her nursing and midwifery legacy.”

Categories: College of Nursing, Research, Top Stories