By Bill Knief
The Bridges Project for Education held its annual College Fair Saturday, September 27 in UNM-Taos’s Bataan Hall on Civic Plaza Drive. Every year UNM-Taos is a major participant, sending advisors and representatives to engage current students, potential students and the parents of students in a dialogue about higher education and the opportunities and advantages that come with a college certificate or degree. This year I went over to take a few pictures and see how things were going because Bridges, a nonprofit organization, plays a significant role in helping Taosenos of all ages to pursue their educational goals.
The first person I ran into was Leslie Mondragon Romero, who was greeting people as they came in. She has been helping to coordinate the College Fair for the past five years.
“Actually, I am an alumni of the Bridges Program myself,” she explained. “I went through the Bridges Program when I was going to Taos High. When I graduated, I went off to Colorado College straight out of high school. Then when I got my BA degree from there I decided to move back here. I wanted to make a difference in my community, and the Bridges Project was really special to me.”
Along with working part time at Centinel Bank in Human Resources and coordinating the College Fair, Romero has served on the Bridges Board.
“It’s our community that makes Bridges successful,” she said. “We are a nonprofit organization and we operate on donations from our community and some grant writing. What makes it possible to do the work that we do is this wonderful community that we live in.”
I asked her what had prompted her to return to Taos, since many New Mexicans choose to live elsewhere after getting a degree in these tough economic times.
“It was partly wanting to be close to family, certainly, but I also felt that I could make a contribution. People who have been to college can speak to students of any age as to what college is really like. For me going to college was something I always knew was the next step for me, so it was an easy decision. But coming back to Taos is a very personal decision. It’s challenging because of the job market here, but I wanted to be there to encourage students to get their education and come back and make a difference in our community.
“My role is to listen. I listen to what concerns there are, and what the individual’s goals are. And we talk through what opportunities there are. A lot of students don’t like the idea of being in school any longer. But there is so much more to college than class time. There is a lot of growth and development that happens outside of class.
“I’ve spoken with students that don’t have a clear interest in college right away, and we talk about other things that interest them, and how those opportunities are sometimes available or easier through higher education. It starts a conversation, and I think, really, that’s our job at Bridges. To be able to answer questions, open doors a little bit for individuals who are unclear as to what their path or their options might be.
“To me, that’s the whole point of college: exploring and figuring out what your interests are. And you take things one step at a time.”