Montana State professor wins advising award at national oSTEM conference

Monday Feb. 5th, 2024

— John Paxton, a computer science professor and director of Montana State University’s Gianforte School of Computing in the Norm Asbsjornson College of Engineering, has been named student Advisor of the Year by oSTEM, a national organization whose acronym  stands for Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

A faculty member since 1990 and adviser of MSU’s student chapter of oSTEM since its formation in 2017, Paxton helps chapter members with their professional and personal development.

“Personally, I am honored and humbled to receive this award," Paxton said. "Institutionally, this award recognizes Montana State University’s deep commitment to helping all students succeed. The students in the oSTEM at Montana State chapter are inspirational and it is deeply gratifying to play a small role in preparing them for impactful STEM careers and happy lives.”

Paxton received the award at the national oSTEM conference in Anaheim, California, in November. The mission of oSTEM is to help members of the LGBTQ+ STEM community lead more successful lives in the professional, academic and personal realms. Along with breakout sessions and keynote speakers, the annual conference features a career fair where students can meet and engage with industry professionals.

“This is an award that I share with the students and the university,” Paxton said. “There would be no award without students who are comfortable being members of our student oSTEM chapter. And there would be no award without Montana State University’s fantastic support of students who historically have encountered barriers to success.”

Before MSU had its own 0STEM student chapter, Paxton organized a trip for students to attend the national oSTEM conference in Denver in 2016. Shortly thereafter, MSU students formed an official club, with Paxton serving as its adviser.

Currently, MSU’s oSTEM chapter has about 25 members and meets twice a month. Meetings tend to focus on professional development, with presentations on topics such as resume writing and interview skills.

Bau Sauvage, a computer science major and the club’s co-president, along with junior psychology major Jacob McCandless, said Paxton has been a positive impact personally, while also making the computing school more accessible to all students, including women and minorities.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from him is how to advocate for myself,” Sauvage said. “He’s taught me things about communicating with people, how to phrase things in ways that are not aggressive or more facilitating of open conversations.”

Meanwhile, Paxton enjoys seeing these students succeed while bringing their full identifies to both their personal lives and to the workplace.   

“To advise our local oSTEM chapter and watch these students grow both personally and professionally is incredibly satisfying,” Paxton said.

Now in his 34th year at MSU, Paxton has developed a reputation not only as a leader in his field but as a faculty member who takes pride in helping his students succeed in all aspects of life.

“His care for the students is evident in everything he does, and I saw how much the students care for and appreciate him,” said Ryan Anderson, associate professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering who also attended the oSTEM conference. “He is a joy to be around, talk to and work with. Attending the conference with him and getting to interact with such a great group of students was a true highlight of my fall semester.”