Many of the students who have come through the doors of UNM-Taos in the past seven years have begun their academic careers by meeting with one of our advisors, Damon Montclare. At the end of the spring semester, Damon began a new phase in his life, traveling to India to study for a year on fellowship. He will be sorely missed and we wish him well on his journey.
In his stead, we have brought Jennifer (she prefers Jenny) Miranda on board to tackle the complex yet essential issue of advising students. She’s not new to the area, however. She has been living in Taos since 2006 with her husband Stephen, who works for the Forest Service.
Her dad was in the military, so Jenny traveled around New Mexico quite a bit growing up. She graduated from high school in Albuquerque, attended college in North Carolina, then worked for 10 years in San Diego. She managed a mentoring program at a women’s center and spent several years doing recruiting in human resource and service learning offices. She worked for Americorp at the University of Georgia for two years, and realized that she was tired of the Southeast and missed her western roots.
“I thought about what I was going to do with my life,” she said in an interview last week. “I realized I wasn’t really into the culture of corporate America. I wanted to give back to students the support I had received as an undergraduate, so I went back to school and got a master’s degree in college student development.”
“I moved to Taos not planning on living here, just coming for the summer,” she laughed. “But after about two weeks I began to think that maybe this is the place I want to be, and I started looking for work. Because of my Americorp background and working with after school programs, I got a job at Rocky Mountain Youth Corps.
“Then one day while I was driving home, I heard Jim Gilroy and Dr. Kate O’Neill doing an interview on KTAO about UNM-Taos and I had this revelation: I asked myself, ‘What am I doing? I have this degree and I’m really passionate about higher education and the role of community colleges in general; why am I not working for one?’ At that point a position opened up at Santa Fe Community College for a student activities coordinator, so for two years I commuted to Santa Fe managing 34 student clubs and organizations along with new student orientation and graduation. SFCC was great, but I was commuting, and Santa Fe just never felt like it was my community. When the advisory job opened up at UNM-Taos, I jumped at it.
“Advising plays such a critical role in working with students as they navigate higher education. It’s not just academics. You have to develop a rapport with students that can continue over a long period of time. It’s not just about what classes you are going to take. It’s looking at your life plan, your career plan, where you want to be in two years, or five years. I don’t tell people what to do, but hopefully I ask the right questions and help them to develop answers and make good decisions as they move forward. It’s not just about giving advice.
“I am completely committed and passionate about the role of community colleges. The student that comes in to do an associate’s degree in pre-science and then transfers to main campus deserves the same amount of respect as someone who is coming in to take a class in construction, say, because he or she wants to retrain to work with new technology.
“We have a rich and abundant community of people that have done amazing things and call Taos home. There are always opportunities to connect the college to the community and the community to the college. Advisors can make those connections because we tend to interact on a one-on-one basis. We help students to find the tools they need to help themselves.”