By Bill Knief
You hear a lot about collaboration these days. But at UNM-Taos it is more than the buzz word of the hour. With funding for education on life support and essential programs continuing to be scraped off the budget like barnacles off the underside of the ship of state, one begins to wonder where it will all end.
Within this context, collaboration has become no less than a survival tactic.
Case in point: for years UNM-Taos has recognized the need in northern New Mexico for a truck and heavy equipment operators’ licensing program: a CDL class. But even back when funding was more available, costs were prohibitive. For a small, rural community college to come up with a program that would cost students upwards of $4,000 to complete was out of the question, regardless of how much they stood to earn throughout their professional careers. In today’s political climate, forget about it.
Still, the need was there, and UNM-Taos has chosen to play a collaborative role. Last week, along with Dean Archuleta and the Department of Labor, we hosted our third meeting on the subject, this time at the Workforce Development offices on Salazar Road. The Silvas were there. The Perovich and the Chavez family businesses were represented, along with the National Guard, Kit Carson Electric Coop and other public and private institutions with a stake in the game. They came not as competitors but as colleagues with common needs and the will to bring about change. Time will tell, but these are the practical kind of people that are used to figuring out how to get things done.
Case in point: One hundred percent of the graduates of our new nursing program recently passed their national bar exams on the first go-around—an unheard of accomplishment that speaks to the high intellectual caliber and determination of each and every student. But behind those individuals, supporting them every step of the way, were individual health care providers, our regional hospital and no less than seventeen other medical service providers that contributed their expertise to student success for one reason: they knew that their contribution would not only come back to benefit those students, but in the long run the entire community would thrive.
Case in point: I had a recent conversation with Sabra Sowell, who is the director of our arts program while Gary Cook is on sabbatical. While UNM-Taos is having to pull back on course offerings this summer due to budget cuts, Sowell is moving forward with short workshops and intensives designed specifically to meet the needs of students who don’t necessarily require college credit.
“We are letting go of some of the classes that aren’t really helping students seeking a degree or certificate,” Sowell said. “The budget doesn’t allow for it any more. I’m trying to focus on getting people into degree programs, but the workshops help fill the gaps for people who just want to take a class for the fun of it, or to gain skills for personal enrichment. In addition to our ten regular classes, we try to offer the short classes in the evenings or on the weekends so working people can take them. You can basically sign up any time before the first day of class. You can phone me for information at (575) 737-6256 or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll help you get started.
“We really can’t do much without collaboration. We teach our performing arts classes at Metta Theatre, and all the drama groups around town have been very supportive. The annual UNM-Taos Spring Art Show will be opening the first week in May at the Stables Gallery and run for two weeks. It’s a lot of fun. We will show over 300 works of art and everyone turns out.
“I’m also always looking for visiting artists to come to Taos. I am hoping that we will eventually build an audience of people coming from outside the community to study here and support our classes. That could have a very positive impact on the local economy.
“In the fall the annual International Society of Electronic Art symposium is being held at UNM in Albuquerque, and on September 26 conference attendees will be spending the day in Taos. The project focuses on creative solutions for how technology and the natural world can co-exist. We will be working on local involvement as the event draws closer.”
Sowell said that this will be an excellent opportunity for artists to experience work which both questions and employs advanced, cutting edge technology, and she hopes that a collaboration between the town and working artists throughout the region will draw positive attention to the local arts community.