By Bill Knief
In that busy period right before Christmas when everything around you is slowing down yet there aren’t enough hours in the day or pages in the appointment calendar to cover all the things you need to accomplish, I met with UNM-Taos Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill to get her overall impression of the year rapidly coming to a close. On a day when the campus was closed due to snow and she was waiting for tire chains to be installed on her truck, she had just enough time for a quick cup of coffee and a summary of some of the major events that shaped community college’s progress in 2008.
“2008 was another banner year for UNM-Taos. We got construction under way on two new buildings: the Career Tech Center with its three computer classrooms, and Phase One of the Kids’ Campus.
“We also completed the Klauer infrastructure, primarily water, sewer and fire suppression. That was huge.
“We succeeded in getting the largest amount ever through the state legislature in a 30 day session. We got 3.3 million in the General Obligation Bond, and fortunately, with the support of citizens throughout New Mexico, that bond passed in November. That will help us complete Pueblo Hall, the 18,000 square foot multi purpose classroom building which will make it possible to consolidate the eleven locations currently serving our students.
“We are also hoping to get telecom wireless capacity out there, and we’ve got a new computer IT coordinator, Joachin Cantu, who is helping us with a strategic plan for the whole campus.
“We succeeded in hiring Spears Architects to review our campus master plan. That was just completed in December, so we are really excited about that.
“We have also succeeded in getting several grants. We got a big federal Title V STEM grant, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Title V is a two year grant for Hispanic serving institutions. We will have about $400,000.00 a year to help set up the UNM-Taos Water Institute—a neutral academic water resource clearing house for all sorts of water information. We will have 18 interns and equipment that will allow us to go out and scan maps, photographs and documents so that we can document oral history and preserve materials in the area without actually having to physically possess those materials.
“Another grant that we got was the second HUD grant for the Kids’ Campus. We got $600,000.00 which will allow us to begin Phase Two, an expansion of the facility just completed in ’08. We also received $47,000.00 from the Daniels Fund, which will help us with training for the Kids’ Campus.
“Another big, big success is that we got state employment funding for our nursing program. We got $337,000.00 per year for two years that will allow us to start a program in collaboration with Holy Cross Hospital leading to an Associate’s Degree in Nursing. It will qualify people to sit for their RN exam, and then they can complete their Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing online if they choose to. That program was just approved by the State Board of Nursing, and because we had the BSN program and we have the faculty in place, the curriculum all set up and the relationship with Holy Cross established, we can begin the program as early as September, ’09.
“We are still waiting for the installation of the five acre solar array that will provide 500 kilowatts of power to the Klauer campus, and we will keep people posted in 2009 as that proceeds.
“We are happy to say that starting July 1 we hired Mildred Young from Taos Pueblo. She is an Associate’s and BUS graduate from UNM-Taos and Extended University, and we are thrilled to have her as our first Native American advisor. She has become a very wonderful addition to the advising team. We also had in-person advising down at the Klauer campus this fall for the first time, and students, faculty and staff all seem to think that that has been a really positive change. We are trying to make the whole process more user friendly for students, and we think that this on-site advising is really helping.
“This fall we became the first UNM branch to be able to electronically send as well as receive courses. We now have five interactive classrooms that Jack Vigil and his company Harmonix helped us set up, and he even contributed about $30,000.00 worth of equipment. Jack is from Penasco, and he knows how important these state of the art facilities are to students in northern New Mexico.
“We now have legislation in dual enrollment that allows 9th and 10th graders to sign up for dual enrollment classes, so we’re continuing to offer college credit classes at all six area high schools.
“Looking to the future, as most folks know, the state budget has been squeezed a bit because the price of oil and gas has gone down, and we have been asked to cut about five percent from our ING funding—that’s not grant funding, or General Obligation Bond funding; it’s operational funds. We can continue to provide the same level of services to our students and still reduce costs with a combination of some basic restructuring, some people voluntarily going to three quarter time, eliminating a UNM-Taos vehicle—those kinds of changes. For the moment we’re not looking at any personnel cuts, and we are going to try to keep it that way.
“We recently had about 21 people from as far away as Los Angeles and Colorado on our campus to receive requests for proposal for the Library Learning Resource Center, the Water Institute, and the Southwest Research Center. We expect to have a couple of dozen firms bidding on these projects as we continue to move forward with the campus.
“We are looking at a water catchment system that will allow us to xeriscape and irrigate the campus and possibly even put in a demonstration acequia with solar pumps.
“We will have our comprehensive strategic master plan completed during 2009 which will include a marketing plan, campus buildout master plan, fundraising and IT master plans. We are ready to move forward on the strategic level, now that we’ve completed the basic infrastructure of our campus.
“This coming year we are looking forward to collaborating with the new director of Holy Cross Hospital and the newly reconstituted Town Council. We congratulate Darren Cordova in becoming the newly appointed mayor. We appreciate the continuing support of the town and county and our state legislators. We look forward to working with everybody on continuing to grow this campus, especially during this pivotal time in our economy.”
Dr. O’Neill finished her coffee and hurried off to see if her tire chains were ready. A reminder, perhaps, that the lifelong pursuit of higher education begins at the end of your own driveway. On January 5, when enrollment continues, and on January 19, when spring semester begins, try not to get snowed in!