The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology Board of Regents recently approved a posthumous honorary doctorate in Computer Science and Engineering for a former longtime university employee and distinguished alumnus. New Mexico Tech Department of Computer Science and Engineering faculty members nominated John William Shipman for the honorary degree and the Faculty Senate voted unanimously in favor of conferring the honor at its meeting Feb. 1, 2022. The New Mexico Tech Board of Regents unanimously approved the honorary doctorate degree at its meeting March 11, 2022.
Vice President for Academic Affairs Douglas Wells, Ph.D., presented the regents with testimony from current and former faculty and staff in strong support of the rare academic honor for Shipman. Shipman’s contributions to the New Mexico Tech and Socorro community included supporting the education of students in computer science, as well as in astronomy, ornithology, and music.
“His spectrum of accomplishments are long and wide-ranging,” Dr. Wells said. “He’s been a major contributor to Tech over many decades.”
Shipman, who died Jan. 31, 2017, at age 67 in Socorro, earned a bachelor’s degree from New Mexico Tech in 1971 in Computer Science, one of the first computer science degree holders in the western United States. After working in the computer software industry in the California Bay Area, he returned to New Mexico Tech in 1983 to work as an applications specialist and as a web developer in the Computer Science Department and Tech Computer Center for 19 years. He also worked for nine years at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), located at the observatory’s Pete V. Domenici Science Operations Center on the university’s campus until his retirement in 2013.
Shipman taught courses in software construction, cleanroom software development, operating systems, and practica in programming languages such as Python, LaTex, and Tex. As an applications specialist, he wrote and organized external and internal documentation, built internal applications, taught informal user classes, and engaged in what he called “software technology evangelism.” His Python classes were free and open to the general public. Shipman’s work was published in the form of publicly released software, scientific databases, and technical reference literature. He singlehandedly authored the university’s 800-page computer science tutorial/reference website, a groundbreaking project that is currently being restored by the Computer Science and Engineering Department with the assistance of Information Technology and Communications (ITC) staff.
In addition to his many technical contributions, Shipman was a well-known amateur astronomer, birdwatcher, and performed as a member of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra Chorus. He volunteered for the National Audubon Society and at local national wildlife refuges participating in bird counts and developed encodings and notations used in ornithological databases. A memorial plaque at the Frank T. Etscorn Campus Observatory at New Mexico Tech was dedicated in Shipman’s honor on Feb. 18, 2019, in recognition of his contributions to amateur astronomy and inspirational legacy to students.
Shipman’s family will receive the honorary doctorate degree on his behalf at New Mexico Tech’s commencement Saturday, May 14, 2022.