In the Trenches... Our First Challenge Is to Entice the Youth of Our State...

Semester after semester, we continue to celebrate many successes at the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University (NMSU) as we graduate a new group of students ready and eager to take on the future. Nearly half of them, some 42 percent, are of Hispanic or Latino descent. Most receive multiple job offers from employers who come from throughout the nation in search of outstanding engineering graduates from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Many of our graduates go on to assume positions of leadership. And all serve as inspiration to younger generations.

We savor our students’ successes all the more, considering that many come from economically disadvantaged families. Many are first-generation college students. And a good percentage are not fully prepared to begin the engineering curriculum without some remedial education.

We fully embrace the land-grant mission that our university was founded on more than a century ago. Serving the people of our state is not only our mission, it is our opportunity to change lives as well as enrich our state. Our first challenge is to entice the youth of our state to pursue higher education. Our second challenge is to encourage them to seek degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Over the past academic year, we reached nearly 7,000 students throughout the state with that message through our K-12 STEM outreach programs.

Of paramount importance to the success of these programs in our communities is that they are free to all who participate. Equally important, they are largely available to the rural areas in our state. Approximately 90 percent of the students who participate in these programs graduate from high school and then go on to college. Even when our efforts to recruit these youngsters are fruitful, they may not be fully prepared to succeed – both academically and economically. We offer programs that support students on both fronts. We are the state administrator for the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) with the goal to increase the number of minority students who complete their bachelor’s degrees and who are currently underrepresented in the STEM disciplines. All of New Mexico’s LSAMP programs and activities are designed to guide qualified students into leadership positions in industry, academia and entrepreneurial pursuits.

Scholarship funds are the primary focus of our development efforts, due to the substantial financial need of our students. In the past five years, our scholarship funds have more than doubled, and nearly every freshman who enters the College of Engineering receives a scholarship. Some departments are able to provide scholarships for many and in some cases all returning students.

The college maintains a tremendous network of support from corporate partners and alumni. The program is highly regarded and wellrespected, and people are very supportive of our efforts to advance our students and faculty. Many of our corporate partners base their generosity upon the caliber of our students as well as the fact that we are a minorityserving institution. Their support provides for better laboratories and equipment, research opportunities and, ultimately, the ability to compete for job opportunities alongside their peers from across the nation.

Aggie engineers Dan Arvizu and Michael L. Connor are evidence of that. Arvizu is director and chief executive of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Connor was appointed earlier this year by President Obama as commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, responsible for the nation’s water management. They show that our land-grant college can produce successful engineers who, in fact, progress to leadership positions that affect the lives of every American. Additionally, they influence and inspire young people who, like them, are Hispanic and came from small, economically disadvantaged communities. Many of our own faculty members came from the same background and are now leading the next generation of Aggie engineers.

David Jáuregui, associate professor of civil engineering, came from Silver City, N.M., a small mining community. He now leads our Bridge Inspection Training Program that certifies bridge inspectors from throughout the United States. Jessica Perea-Houston, assistant professor of chemical engineering, who was born in Los Alamos and grew up in Santa Fe, received impressive research funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health in her first year as an NMSU faculty member. I, too, am a fortunate beneficiary of the land-grant process that is such an inherent part of NMSU’s culture.

I graduated in 1966 from Las Cruces High School, then the only high school in the city that is home to NMSU. Summers spent working on my family’s cotton farm and a father who encouraged me to aspire to more in life were the primary reasons that I decided well before I attended high school that I wanted to earn my degree as a civil engineer. As a first-generation college student, I never imagined that I would someday become dean of the college.

We embrace the land-grant mission as an institution, but our success is the result of the personal commitment of the faculty and staff here at NMSU. I have complete faith that our students will continue with that mission. Mechanical engineering senior Brandon Grelle, who received a HENAAC Scholarship recognizing his leadership to the Hispanic community in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and a native of Deming, N.M., is already started on that pathway.

Dorothy Lanphere, electrical engineering graduate student from Las Vegas, N.M., founded the NMSU chapter of Engineers without Borders and is already making a positive impact on the world.

I can’t wait to see the accomplishments that they and their fellow Aggie engineers will do to better the world and inspire the next generation in the decades to come.