Yes, we can, at UNM-Taos!

By Bill Knief

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Last year, our 10th as a branch of New Mexico’s powerhouse university, was quite a year. We beat everybody in the state for enrollment growth and then came in as the 17th fastest growing community college of our size in the nation, in a field of over 350 institutions. It felt good to get some recognition on the national stage.

But don’t misunderstand: by “we” I mean the students, the families and the everyday citizens of Northern New Mexico, because they are the ones who really drive this college. UNM-Taos faculty and staff do an extraordinary job just keeping up with their demand for quality education.

So far, it looks like 2014 is going to be equally intense. Spring enrollment topped 1,600, and we are firing up two major expansion projects, one on campus and one in the center of town, to ensure that there will always be a place for anyone who chooses to come to UNM-Taos and work hard to realize their goals.

During spring break, while everyone else was getting a little rest, a group of UNM-Taos staff members went to a three-day conference in California called AHSIE. I knew that our Institutional Research/Title V Program Specialist, Anita Bringas, was one of the facilitators of this important national convention, so I asked her to explain the significance of sending a contingent of nine key staff members half way across the country to take part.

Bringas told me that AHSIE stands for the Association of Hispanic Serving Institutions Educators and this was their sixth annual conference. David Trujillo, Anita’s supervisor, and the Director of Grants, Special Projects and Title V at UNM-Taos, created the association when he recognized the need for institutions and administrators to have technical support on how to apply for and implement federal Title V grants to Hispanic Serving Institutions.

“To be an Hispanic Serving Institution and qualify for Title V money, institutions have to have a minimum of 25 percent Hispanic enrollment,” Bringas said. “The UNM-Taos student body generally has around 60 percent, and five-year Title V grants are at the heart of what we do. But you don’t just get the money and then the grant goes away, because the intent of the grant is capacity building. At the end of five years the money goes away but the program does not go away. The federal money is used as a jump start to develop needed programs, hire staff and purchase equipment such as computers, but the institution must then figure out not only how to implement those programs but continue them past the completion of the grant to improve student engagement, enrollment, success, retention and graduation. The conference is organized around the need for sharing ideas and best practices to meet these goals.

“Title V grants are hugely important to UNM-Taos. They have allowed us to expand our tutoring program and faculty development, build developmental programs, and hire advisors. As both a student and staff person, I have detected a definite shift in the culture toward what they call customer service in the business world. It’s about concentrating on student services, and providing the professional development and support to staff and faculty to really shift their thinking. It’s about working with students as individuals — recognizing what their goals are, what their experiences and skills are, and matching them up with a degree or career path that is a good fit for them.”

David Trujillo and Anita Bringas played major roles in this year’s AHSIE conference, which drew almost 400 attendees from across the country. Trujillo is the current president of the AHSIE Council, and Bringas is the secretary. In addition, Dr. Randi Archuleta, Dean of Instruction, along with Assistant Dean Roberta Vigil and Administrative Officer Gina Vigil were present, along with Director of Student Affairs Patricia Gonzales, CASA Director Diego Trujillo, head of developmental studies Pam Brody and support person Amber Gordon.

“We were probably the second or third best-represented institution at the conference,” Bringas said.

“The highlight of the conference for most people was the honor to host Dolores Huerta, who was instrumental along with César Chávez in creating the United Farm Workers Union and their universally recognized slogan, ‘Si, se puede.’

“She is a tiny woman in her 80s now, still mentally sharp, tenacious, committed. She has not slowed down a bit, and her presentation reminded all of us how really fortunate we are to be able to be here doing what we’re doing. Even now, a lot of our students are first generation, low-income students who don’t have computers, and don’t have support at home.

“Speaking for me personally, meeting Dolores Huerta helped me remember that we have a unique opportunity to make a difference in a students’ lives. We can all help make change, to inspire and motivate and mentor these students and help them along their journey. But it’s not our job to find their path for them. It’s our job to help them discover what that path is, and guide them along the way.

“It was inspirational. Dolores Huerta has this very approachable, abuela presence. You want to hug her and bow down to her at the same time. She is so genuine, so filled with passion. She embodies her mantra, ‘Si se puede.’ And you are reminded that there is no good reason why we can’t.”

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