By Bill Knief
New Student Orientation is a special event at UNM-Taos. It is the unofficial start of the spring semester and the first interaction between the institution and the latest arrivals. It provides the groundwork for a successful foray into higher education. On January 5 Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill had a few things to say to the new student body about the quality of education to be had at their community college.
“Almost two-thirds of our faculty have achieved the most advanced degrees that are available to them,” O’Neill said. “So instead of having a teaching assistant who’s in graduate school, you have someone who has been out in the field working, or teaching at other institutions. They really know what they are talking about. They’re here because they are passionate about their subject matter, and they share that passion with you, the students. But it works both ways. The more invested, interested, motivated, curious and dedicated you are, the more you’ll get back from this place.
“I started teaching here in 1994 when we had 350 students, and now we have about 1,650. Last year UNM-Taos was written up as one of the 25 fastest growing schools of our size in the whole country. So you get the benefit of being part of the state’s flagship university while you are also getting the kind of personal contact that you would find difficult if not impossible to cultivate at main campus.
“The educational experience you have at UNM-Taos is going to give you a new perspective on life. You are not just a passive recipient of education; you are an active participant and you make it the best it can be.
“It’s the great joy of my life to get to participate in that process. I look forward to getting to know you and I encourage you to get to know your teachers, the other students, CASA Tutoring, Student Government and the rest, and pitch in to help them and let them help you. That’s what everybody is here for, and we’re really excited to have you here. So good luck on your journey.”
CASA is a free program that provides workshops and one-on-one tutoring in a broad range of subjects, and helps students to prepare for the core courses that count toward a degree.
“Roughly 75 percent of the people who come to us place in an introductory studies course through the Compass testing that we do,” according to CASA Director Kathy Spess.
“Students realize that it’s not a big deal to come to tutoring. I tell them not to wait until they are struggling. The minute they are not understanding the material, they should come to CASA and work with a peer. We are part of an international tutoring association and our tutors are highly trained. In addition to academics, they learn leadership skills and how to support one another as a team. They have to observe other tutors for 30 hours before tutoring anyone, and then they in turn are observed for 15 hours. Out tutors are some of the most motivated students around.”
I talked with one of the tutors, Juan Juarez, who had a remarkable story to tell. In 2006 he had enrolled at UNM-Taos and was having trouble with math, so he went to CASA for help. Now he is tutoring other students in math.
“It’s a way to give back for what people have done to help me get to where I am now,” Juarez explained. “Right now I am majoring in architectural design, and I will eventually transfer to Albuquerque. I want to do my math here though, because at main campus I might be in classes with several hundred students. That’s a little bit overwhelming for me.
“I know what it means to have help when you need it, and it feels good to actually be able to help people in return.
“I was always in trouble when I was younger. I got tired of being in and out of jail, always running from the cops. I got tired of living that life. I had my first son at 26 and three months before he was born I decided I had to do something for my son, so I went back to school and got my GED, and then went on to college. I’m a single dad now with two boys.
“My advice is if you have ever had thoughts or dreams of what you want to do in life, don’t put it off, or it’ll never get done. I came farther than I ever thought I could in reaching my goals.
“My son’s grandmother was my role model. I’d watch her going to school and thought maybe I could do something like that. Hopefully, now, I have set a good example for my sons to follow. That’s the main thing that matters to me. I don’t want them to live the life I did.”
If you have goals to achieve, it’s not too late to enroll for the spring semester at UNM-Taos. Call 737-6200 and we’ll get you started.