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Statewide Listening Tour - Clovis, Portales, Hobbs, Artesia, Carlsbad, Roswell, Ruidoso, Alamogordo

My tour of Southeastern New Mexico kicked off early–up and on the road by 5:00 am. I’ve enjoyed the unexpectedly green landscape between Albuquerque and Ft. Sumner. We turned off the main drag in Ft. Sumner for a brief side trip to the Bosque Redondo Memorial. 150 years ago, almost to the day, that I stood at the gates of the memorial, the Treaty of Bosque Redondo was signed, ending the Navajo Wars and allowing the Navajo People to return home.

We eventually reached Clovis, where we took a driving tour of the city with stops at the Norman & Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum and the Clovis Community College. At the museum I was treated to a blast from the past, seeing recording equipment and old records, instruments and other treasures from the time of Elvis, Petty and other musical greats who recorded or worked out of Clovis.

At Clovis Community College, Chief Financial Officer Tom Drake walked me through the campus which, at the time, was hosting its annual New Mexico Dairy Consortium. The event, which has grown to include nearly 60 students, brings in professors from around the county to teach students the business, technology and economy of dairy production.

My next stop was Eastern New Mexico University where President Jeff Elwell met me at the school’s historic administration building. Like me, President Elwell is relatively new to the state, and is coming up on his one-year anniversary with the school in July. He took me on a tour of the remarkable building, which included the newly-renovated Golden Student Success Center.

The final portion of the day was spent driving to Hobbs, touring its new Center of Recreational Excellence (CORE). Still in its first month of being open, the community recreation and health care center is sure to become a focal point of Hobbs. One thing I’m learning on this listening tour is about the community culture and care that these rural New Mexico towns have. They are eager and willing to do what it takes to support and grow their local economies.

On my second day, I attended a community breakfast graciously hosted by the Bob Reid and the J.F. Maddox Foundation—a pillar of philanthropy in Lea County and in New Mexico. The breakfast was enlightening, with many county leaders in attendance, as well as Dr. Art Kaufman, members of the HSC Leadership, the Mayor of Hobbs, and many others. I was energized by the conversation in the room, and the ability to discuss with these leaders how to better bring higher education to rural towns in New Mexico, and how to create more collaborative use facilities and resources.

A short drive down the road, we stopped in Artesia. One of my first visits was the new Artesia Public Library. What an amazing resource for the community, filled with reading nooks, beautiful artwork, and spaces for readers of all ages.

Lunch was hosted by the folks of the Chase Foundation—who have been constant supporters of UNM through the years. 2018 marked the 12th year of the Chase Foundation Scholarship Program, which partners heavily with the University’s College Erichment Program, and awarded scholarships to 55 soon-to-be Lobos.

The lunch was a great time to honor the people at the Chase Foundation, as well as discuss issues of concern in the community.

Then it was off to the bat cave where I met UNM Professor Emerita Diana Northup, who has conducted extensive research in Carlsbad Caverns. In particular, she and her team are looking at native microbial defenses bats possess, working closely in collaboration with the National Park Service to make sure the bats in Carlsbad will stick around for a long while.

The cave itself was beyond beautiful. It was particularly special to have a faculty member as knowledgeable and passionate about the cave, and its inhabitants, as Diana Northup.

After a quick change of clothes, it was off to a reception at the stunning Pecos River Conference Center. I was able to mingle with alumni while overlooking the beautiful Pecos River.

A warm welcome and a piping hot cup of coffee awaited me at the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce the following morning. Chamber Chair Dr. John Gratton assembled a wonderfully informed group for our breakfast reception. It was truly a great experience to sit around the table with the economic director, mayor, chamber members, and other leaders in the healthcare and education fields. We discussed a myriad of topics and enjoyed an open discourse on how to make higher learning appealing to students graduating high school, who often consider going directly into the workforce instead of pursuing their education. Overall, it was an insightful conversation, which I’m optimistic will lead to some necessary change.

Following breakfast, I traveled with Christos Christodoulou, dean of our School of Engineering, to the far outskirts of Eddy County, to tour the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). It recently began full operations again, following some facility challenges in 2014, and I was able to see just how they are utilizing the underground salt bed to dispose of nuclear waste. When I think of nuclear waste, I think of something slimy, sludgy and possibly bright green. But I learned that it actually (for the most part) just encompasses everyday objects, like clothes and fluid beakers, that were contaminated during the process of making nuclear materials. It was truly an enlightening experience to tour the above ground portion of the expansive facility.

The rest of the day was spent traveling to Roswell, with a short stop at the International UFO Museum for a photo with the little green men that guard the door. I then had the honor of paying my respects at the POW/MIA Memorial. My father-in-law was a prisoner of war, and being a military child, the armed forces have always held a special place in my heart. It was a somber moment, standing before the rock inscribed to the dedication of those missing in action. May we never forget their sacrifice.

I spent the evening at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, conversing with healthcare providers of the future, incoming students of the UNM BA/MD Combined Program. These students’ achievements give me hope for the future of clinical care. They were honored by Roswell Mayor Dennis J. Kintigh at a Community Healthcare Solutions reception.  Also in attendance were Dr. Art Kaufman and other notable healthcare providers who have worked tirelessly to make sure the knowledge of UNM School of Medicine is applied to the rural communities who so desperately need it.

The final day of the tour, my staff and I started at New Mexico Military Institute, speaking with President/Superintendent Major General Jerry Grizzle and Chief Academic Officer/Academic Dean Brigadier General Douglas J. Murry. They told me about the strategic plan and structure used at the school to instill leadership, discipline, and integrity. Following the briefing, I was treated to a tour of the scenic campus, meticulously-kept grounds, stunningly-renovated performance hall, and reverent chapel.

Then I was back in the car headed to Ruidoso. I’ve never been to the mountain town but, during my short stay, I can safely say it’s a place I look forward to visiting again and exploring more soon. People were friendly and open to conversing with me about how UNM can better support students coming out of the Ruidoso community. We also discussed how to encourage those students to return to Ruidoso after graduation, and the problems related to job market issues in the area. Many thanks to the Executive Director Becky Brooks and the Ruidoso Chamber of Commerce for hosting the lunch at nationally-renown restaurant Hunt to Harvest at the Mercantile. Thanks, also, to the representatives from ENMU-Ruidoso and Presbyterian who joined us for the meal.

From Ruidoso, I headed to Alamogordo, with a quick photo stop at the world’s largest pistachio—an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

The major stop in Alamogordo was at the Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, which is a solid supporter of UNM, UNM HSC, and UNMH. I learned about the work the Medical Center does with UNM medical students and residents, particularly in the fields of psychiatry and surgery. Not only do our students get to work closely with the medical team, they are also exposed to the challenges and rewards of rural medicine.

My husband Jeff joined me just south of Albuquerque for my final stop on this part of the tour. Together with my touring companions, we enjoyed a final green chile cheeseburger at the Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio. Have you been keeping up with how many I’ve eaten so far? I think when this listening tour is done we might have to do a contest since I’ve received so many guesses.