By Bill Knief
Teaching is a noble profession. So is being a student. When everything is working right the symbiotic relationship between the two creates the ideal environment for the seeds of knowledge to grow.
Jens Pursche is a UNM-Taos student who was just selected as one of 37 All-State Scholars in New Mexico. The four semesters of paid undergraduate tuition that comes with the recognition will enable him to pursue his academic goal of transferring to UNM for his Bachelor’s Degree in mechanical engineering. After that he plans on continuing at UNM’s prestigious Anderson School for his Master’s in Business Administration.
According to UNM-Taos Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill, Pursche’s success embodies the mission of the community college, which in part is to prepare students to transfer to four-year institutions, and to encourage them to reinvest their academic skills even after lengthy absences. “We wish him well,” O’Neill said, “and I encourage others to take advantage of this scholarship opportunity in the years to come.”
Ironically, it was an injury that got Pursche back on the path of higher education. After years of working in the oil fields of North Dakota and earning a living as a licensed contractor, the second time Jens sustained a serious knee injury, it marked the end of strenuous work for him.
“I have to thank Dr. Lubowitz for putting this straight out there in front of me. He said ‘Your body is just too beaten up. You’ve had too many years of heavy, physical work and you’ve got to face the reality.’ So I’m coming to the college with a big exoskeleton on my knee,” Pursche laughed, “all because of me working all the time. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With an education you have more options. You don’t have to sell yourself cheap by just selling your labor. You can also sell your knowledge. It’s a better way to live your life.”
He grew up in a small town in East Germany where he was trained as an artist blacksmith, and later immigrated to the United States. “I was one of the last ones to be trained in the traditional way in Germany,” he said, and he credits his upbringing with establishing the values he lives by today. “I grew up in a way that was being open to people. It’s an opportunity to be nice to people, and it makes me feel good, too.
“A friend of mine that I knew from Germany, Falco Stein, who completed the nursing program here at UNM-Taos, told me about Taos and how great it was. We moved here almost eleven years ago, and it worked out. Working with the people here very much felt like East Germany. Living in Taos teaches people a lot, in terms of values and in terms of living a life on a minimalist level, instead of the excess you see in the bigger cities. That’s a big lesson for young people today. Do you really need that piece of bling or that gadget?
“We did some farming when I was younger and we didn’t have money for equipment, so for a year my dad and I gathered parts and built a tractor from scratch. But before we could build the tractor, my dad and a neighbor who was an electrician had to build a welder from scratch. Now, that same kind of creativity and independence are what makes Taos so attractive to me.
“I’ve gone through some life changes in the last year. There was the knee injury and a divorce as well, so it is important for me to be a good example to my 13 year old son, showing him that it’s never too late to make tough choices in life and embrace change.
“I always wanted to go back to school. I took classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago and took correspondence courses from UNM-Taos while I was in the oil fields. Now, picking it up again, I am looking back and saying, man, I should have stayed in school! I’m telling a lot of the younger students here on campus to stay in school and get that degree. It will give you so many more choices in life.“
“Being an older, non-traditional student is a huge incentive for me to make this work. The scholarship means a lot to me. I can’t go back doing the things I have been doing because of my injury, but the scholarship makes it possible for me to continue my education. There’s no way that I will stop this time; it’s full steam ahead.”