Looking forward to the future in a time of uncertainty

By Bill Knief

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Next Wednesday, in the November 26 publication of the Taos News (the Thanksgiving holiday edition) you will receive your copy of the UNM-Taos Spring Semester Schedule of Classes. You might want to study it closely, because the format has been completely redesigned, and as early as December 1 students will be able to register for classes. So even though we have yet to experience our first serious winter weather, it’s not too early to be making plans for the spring. According to Dr. Kate O’Neill, Executive Director of UNM-Taos, there will be a lot to choose from in the new schedule.

“We have several hundred courses, a great faculty and a new format for the schedule, which will make it more user friendly,” O’Neill maintained. “The course area is divided by section now, so that the schedule itself and the course descriptions are both in one place, making it easier to make your choices.

“We are also providing another useful feature for the first time: brief bios of our incredible faculty. It will give the community a sense of who is teaching here, and the level of their scholastic credentials. It’ll be a little sketchy this first time out, but we’re really proud that we could get this together. We even asked faculty to include personal interests as well as academic background.

“We’ve got a lot of really accomplished academic instructors as well as career-technical faculty. For instance, there’s Benji Apodaca, who is an executive chef. We’ve got people with doctoral degrees like Norm Ferguson in psychology, Marty Hewlett in biology, and Andrea Heckman in anthropology. But the real hallmark of our faculty is their passion and their accessibility.”

During these hard economic times families are having to cut back on basics, and O’Neill noted that the colleges in New Mexico, too, have been notified that they should be prepared to cut their budgets by five percent if the economic outlook continues to worsen.

“It was just noted in the New York Times that Arizona State University is letting go of 200 adjunct faculty, and that’s pretty unsettling,” she said. “We do not have plans to let go of faculty at UNM-Taos, but we might have to cut our budget a little here and there. However, students are going to find that our classes will continue to maintain the high quality they expect and deserve. Students are not going to be put in with 800 other students, but rather 15 or 20 or 30, so they will still get one-on-one attention. Teachers will still know them by name, and be able to write letters of recommendation when they’re ready to transfer to another school or when they’re applying for a job.

“I think we’ll find that more and more people are going to be coming to our college. Nationally, they say that 50 percent of college students are currently attending community colleges, and I expect that number to increase, as people realize that they can pay less for tuition and stay closer to home—and perhaps get a better education as well.”

It is a bit ironic, then, that just as the need for higher education at the college level is increasing, funding is getting tighter. But O’Neill is not ready to sound the alarm.

“Higher education requires over $800,000,000.00 per year in New Mexico, so as revenues diminish, we are all going to have to tighten our belts a bit. But UNM-Taos has been a pretty lean operation the whole time we have been in Taos. We’ve had to rely on community partnerships, partnering with schools, the Rocky Mountain Youth Corps and other groups, partnering with our radio stations and the Taos News, and we will continue to be a good neighbor. We are very blessed to be supported by the town, the county, and the whole Enchanted Circle, and we need it; we are a struggling community college and we don’t have many resources. It’s going to be a long, hard journey, but we’ll get there.

“Looking to the future, we are excited to work with Senator Bingaman and our new Senator Udall and Congressman Lujan, along with the enormous support shown us by our local representatives. The beauty of a community college, I believe, is that it fits in the niche between the local community and society at large. We will continue to serve those people who choose to stay right here and get a good education.”


Each year community colleges across the state nominate candidates for Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for two year colleges, and this year the prestigious award has gone to Enselma Vasquez, 56 year old UNM-Taos student. When the state legislature acknowledged her scholastic accomplishment, she was surprised.

“I didn’t expect this. I am the mother of five, and I helped my sister raise two of her kids. I’m also raising three of my grandkids. After a family tragedy in 1999 I was suffering from depression, and my middle son said if I would go back to school, he would, too. My sons felt it was time for me to do something for myself, and that’s how it started. Now I tell my sons, it’s a shame your momma makes better grades than you!

“But it was crazy; at first I couldn’t find my way. I didn’t know what was going on and I was too embarrassed to ask for help. Then when I was walking out the door one of the faculty members, Maxine Chacon, said no, you can’t leave until you get something. And the staff was ready to hold my hand. I didn’t have to be embarrassed. I have had to confront so many obstacles, and the UNM-Taos staff has always been there to help me. It has made my road easier.

“I’ve learned that you have to make sacrifices for yourself. If you don’t you become bitter and then your family suffers. I guess I would tell the next person, it’s never too late. Always follow your dream in your heart!”

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