New Semester, New Leadership
UNM-Taos: New Semester, New Leadership
Dr. Kate O’Neill (simply “Kate” to her friends and colleagues) will be stepping down after a decade at the helm of UNM-Taos, and Dr. Martinez “Marty” Hewlett will take over as Interim Chief Executive Officer at the end of this month.
People often ask me the “real” reason for Dr. O’Neill’s departure: was there a health issue? Was it politics? Family? A career move? Trouble within the college? And I am more than happy to tell them what I know.
Ten years ago, when she first applied for the job, Dr. O’Neill confided in me that she wouldn’t have even considered the position if she didn’t feel that she could honestly commit to at least ten years as executive director. The relatively new branch campus had been through some challenging times, and she believed that continuity of leadership was paramount. And now, true to her word, she is completing her tenure. So after a semester’s hiatus our Harvard-educated executive director will be returning to the position she loves most: as a classroom lecturer in psychology at UNM-Taos.
Dr. O’Neill’s other reason is my favorite: “What better time to step down, than when everything is going well?” O’Neill said. “We are in good shape financially. We have a great faculty and administrative team in place, and all the construction projects including plans for the new $4 million STEM building are proceeding on schedule. When you think about it, it is the perfect time for a change in leadership. Step aside and let someone else carry it forward from here!”
That someone else is Dr. Marty Hewlett, Professor Emeritus from the University of Arizona and a 13 year faculty and staff member at UNM-Taos. Last week we sat down for a visit.
“My view of the interim position is a person who comes in to take the wonderful work that has been done by Kate and her team, and keep the direction and the momentum going, but not start anything new. That will be up to the person we select as the permanent director.
“We are going to do a national search. A search committee is being constituted and they will begin their work in the fall. By spring we should be interviewing candidates. All that working perfectly means that a new director will start a year from now, in which case we as a team will turn over the reins and be there for support. My agreement with the Provost at main campus is that I would then return to my half-time position as a research scholar with the added mission of helping the new director. But if the search takes longer than that, I am prepared to stay until the post is filled.
“Two things have made it an exciting challenge for me. One is Kate taking the time in the last couple of months to have a transition that she characterizes as ‘a warm hand- off’. We have gradually exchanged roles in the most gracious way. I have met with local officials and gone down to main campus with her. She introduced me to the Executive Cabinet at main campus, and the next time I attended it was like I had always been there.
“The second thing that is exciting is working with the team of people she has put together, everyone in what she calls her leadership team. They’re just outstanding. It’s so exciting to have people who have been in their positions long enough to have that institutional memory, but who are also excited about what has been accomplished and see the future of this fine institution in a positive light. I feel it all adds up to a rare opportunity to serve.
“One good example of what we will be accomplishing in the current year is the STEM Center. We have four million dollars in General Obligation Bond C that will be voted on this November, and if it passes, that money will be used to construct the much-needed laboratory space for teaching science, technology, engineering and math. We are already working on it with the capital projects people at main campus and Living Design Group here in Taos. The Center will be an addition to the existing Career Tech building. It will include dry and wet labs for training in the physical and life sciences, and it will complete the arc of newly constructed buildings on campus.
“We just had a meeting with Senator Martin Heinrich and his team about the needs of the national labs, in particular the wave of retirements that Los Alamos is facing, so the timing for the STEM Center is perfect; there are excellent careers for our students opening up literally right down the street.
“And maximizing our opportunities is really what this is all about.”
August 22 is the first day of fall semester at UNM-Taos. Our website, taos.unm.edu, has the current schedule of classes, and you can call the enrollment office at 575 737-6215 for information on how you can complete the enrollment process now and enjoy the rest of your summer. Shouldn’t you be a part of the most dynamic institution in Taos County? After all, it’s your community college!