UNM-Taos’ facilities, curriculum, community partnership ‘really knocked me out’

March 2, 2022


Photo by Enrico Trujillo

ACE Fellow Dr. Lisa Jasinski, Trinity University special assistant to the vice president of Academic Affairs photographed at Klauer Campus on Feb. 23.


Last August, UNM President Garnett S. Stokes revealed that Dr. Lisa Jasinski, special assistant to the vice president of Academic Affairs at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, was selected to be a 2021-22 American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow and chose to spend 12 weeks throughout the current academic year at The University of New Mexico. Jasinski recently spent two days at UNM-Taos. 

Established in 1965, the ACE Fellows Program is designed to strengthen institutional and leadership capacity in American higher education by identifying and preparing faculty and staff for senior positions in college and university administration. Over the past five decades, nearly 2,000 higher education leaders have participated in the ACE Fellows Program, with more than 80 percent of Fellows having served as senior leaders of colleges and universities. 

The following is a conversation Jasinski had with BCAM staff.


Why did you apply for this fellowship?

“There's a couple of reasons why I applied for this one and why I applied at this point in my career. I had a really influential mentor who had gone through this program, and she kind of looked at me and was like, this would be a great opportunity for you. So, I think with a lot of things like this, there's always a human element in how you learn about something and the fact that that came so highly recommended by somebody who knew me. So that was sort of one obvious appeal — that it felt like it was the right time and it was given to me by a trusted mentor. The ACE program has a really strong reputation. But the thing that I think tipped me toward this, compared to other opportunities for leadership development, is this one is very based on practice. We go to workshops. We do some skills inventories. But the majority of the fellowship is spent onsite at another institution. The fact is, it wasn't just learning about leadership and the abstract. It was an opportunity to really embed yourself in a different institution with a different culture, with a different structure, with similar challenges that all colleges and universities face. But the fact that you got to see that, to me, that just really spoke to how I learned. And I felt like I was really fortunate. And I'll just add, on a personal note, I'm in my early 40s and I think something about being in your 40s is a good time to learn, unlearn, and keep learning. So, I felt like it was really the right time in my career to take on this kind of opportunity. Maybe five or 10 years from now, I'm sure if I came to this program, I would come to it with really different reasons. But I definitely kind of came to it as an opportunity to begin to think about the next 20-25 years of my working life.”


Where did your interest in learning about HSI (Hispanic-Serving Institutions) stem from? 

“That’s sort of the structure of the program. And what's interesting about the ACE Fellowship Program is that once you get accepted as a Fellow, you get to decide what institution you want to go visit, and they leave that choice entirely up to you. So, when I thought about the kind of place I wanted to go to, I had a couple of things in mind. I've been working for 15 years at a small, private, residential liberal arts college. Our students are 18 to 22 years old. They live on campus. They have a fairly traditional pathway. And I wanted to go to a school that felt really different. So, the reason I picked UNM was it allowed me to see a much bigger, more complex organization. The way that there's the Albuquerque campus and the branches is unusual. It has an incorporated hospital. They have a unionized faculty. They get money from the Legislature. These are things that I don't get to see in my daily life. So those are some things that were really different. But one of the things that I thought was really the same was the kind of strong emphasis on student success. And my institution is what they call an emerging HSI. So about 35 percent of our students are students of color. The majority of them are Latinx or Hispanic. Being in San Antonio, that's what you would expect. So, I wanted to come to a place that was an HSI. And I think you probably know this but UNM was, I think, one of the first public R1 (doctoral universities) flagships to also be an HSI. They've been doing this as long as anybody. And for me, that felt like I was getting a look into the crystal ball of what the future of my own institution could look like.”


After talking with folks at UNM and here in Taos about HSI, what jumped out at you from those discussions?

“I think some of the things that have really jumped out at me are they have an amazing campus — [Albuquerque] is the campus I'm most familiar with. They have a great student resource center called La Raza (El Centro de la Raza). I like to think about students, as always, from an asset-based perspective. And I think many students, especially who come from really strong Hispanic or Latinx families, come with incredible systems of support. But learning how to translate those systems of support into systems that are college support systems is a bit of a transition. And I think La Raza plays an incredible role in helping students form that supportive community on campus so that they can really succeed in college. But the other thing I would say is that I've been really impressed with how UNM thinks about its curriculum and its faculty. In the fall, they just approved a Ph.D. program in Native studies. I know that they're working on elevating their Africana studies program. Those are not specifically HSI initiatives, but I think it speaks to the kind of larger — I don't even like the term MSI — but the Minority-Serving Institution. I think what's also powerful is that students are able to look around the university and they see people that look like them, and they see people that look like them at all stages of leadership. And for me, that's critically important because as we bring in students that may not have looked like the students who graduated from institutions 20 and 25 years ago, it's absolutely critical that there's an institutional commitment. I think what I've seen is the sense of how you build support structures outside of the classroom, and how you think about who's in the classroom and what those courses look like. To me, that's really exciting.” 


Are these the kind of programs and supports you'd like to implement at Trinity? 

“I think it's interesting because this is the translation part of the fellowship. Trinity is a small institution. We have 250 full-time faculty. But at the same time, I think we have a lot of opportunities. We've had some, like all institutions, a lot of retirements. And I've seen some things, such as a really innovative program to hire post-doctorates to bring in a more diverse professoriate. And those kinds of things really excite me. I also really like at UNM that they have so many resource centers that focus on different student populations. They have a women's center. They have an LGBTQ+ center. They have La Raza. They've just started an Asian American student support center. And I think, in many ways, what is the biggest idea in higher education right now is around equity-based work, which means that not everybody is the same. People want different things. And we would expect those programs to look different. We would expect those centers to look different. And I think that's an idea we could take back to Trinity. So, even if we don't end up building seven or eight different student support centers, it's really thinking about how your programming matches the needs of a specific population and saying it's okay, those needs are different. First-Gen students might need one kind of support that is similar and different from low-income students, veterans, single parents, and so on. And I think for a long time, I think colleges were maybe afraid to think about offering identity-based services. They think that that could be kind of divisive. But I think when it's in a kind of holistic system, it's important to think about who students are and what needs they bring. You offer resources that really plugin and activate their own strengths. So that's an idea that I think is not a particular idea, but a kind of mindset I want to take with me.

“San Antonio is growing really fast. It is gentrifying. It is diverse. We've had some really awesome projects, like revitalization, that I think have brought a lot to downtown and have brought more people to San Antonio. San Antonio is a 300-year-old city with incredible history. And I really don't want that lost in chain restaurants and housing developments. I like to be in places that feel different and special. And there's no other place like Taos. There's no other place like Santa Fe. And I think there's just getting to be places where you won't be able to tell the difference between Tucson from Scottsdale from a suburb of Dallas or San Antonio. I hope we don't lose that because you notice the things that I paid attention to here. I'm like, what can you do that nobody else can do rather than trying to just copycat some template that somebody else created for you?”


How much time have you been able to spend in Taos on this trip, besides meeting with people? Have you been able to tour the town at all? 

“I was here yesterday (Feb. 22), and I'll be here today. I've been doing kind of everything the fellowship wants you to do — I sat in as an observer on a leadership team meeting with the Chancellor. I had some sit-down, one-on-one conversations, so I was able to talk to some folks. For example, later this afternoon, I'm going to talk to Randi (Archuleta), so we can have a one on one. I talked to Anita (Bringas). I was able to tour all of your facilities with Barb (Wiard), both here and downtown. It’s really helpful for me to get a sense of the place. But what's great is being able to talk to people and ask questions, and then just to sit and be a listener in a meeting because you can learn a lot about dynamics, you can learn a lot about institutional culture. And the team has just been so welcoming. And again, I sort of think about what I'm going to take from this visit, what I keep thinking about, and a few things that have just really knocked me out — I think you have amazing facilities. 

“Facilities create a sense of pride and importance, that this is a place where students can really see themselves as professionals. I was really blown away by all the facilities for nursing in EMS downtown, which is so awesome. I also love the sense of Taos’ flavor that I feel here. Whether it's the amazing art building and the kinds of classes you offer, oh, my goodness ... I also got to go this morning to the HIVE. I met with Anita (Bringas) and Rose (Reza) there. And to me, that just feels like that kind of 21st-century partnership where the boundaries of a university break down and where the community begins. And it's just super exciting. It's like when you think about institutions that are parts of their communities — like true partners — that's what I think UNM-Taos is doing in a best-in-class way.”