Statewide Listening Tour - Las Cruces, Deming, Silver City

When I started my statewide listening and learning tour, the goal was to visit all 33 counties in New Mexico to learn its history and culture. In doing so, I set out to meet as many people as I could in order to discover how The University of New Mexico may better serve the people of this state. I have now been to 25 of New Mexico’s 33 counties and have found the following foundational themes echoed throughout the state in terms of UNM’s role as the flagship university – education, healthcare and workforce development. I have also discovered the many ways in which UNM is working throughout the state to support our communities in these areas and others.

In southwestern New Mexico, our faculty have developed collaborations and conducted research that has a critical impact on the region and the state. I was fortunate enough to have some of these outstanding scholars and researchers introduce me to their work.

Associate Professor Tim Castillo, a native of Silver City, co-founded the Finding Rural Program, a collaboration formulated between Western New Mexico University, the town of Silver City, the city of Deming, and the UNM School of Architecture and Planning to explore how architecture and design play a role in economic development. 

Joe Cook, a Regents Professor in the Department of Biology and UNM alumnus from Silver City, conducts highly collaborative research that focuses on conservation, molecular evolution and systematics. Professor Cook is heavily involved in efforts to encourage greater participation of underrepresented students in biology, especially Native Americans. He graduated from Western New Mexico in Silver City and earned his master’s degree, focusing on SW New Mexico mammals, and his Ph.D., focusing on Bolivian mammals, from UNM.

Dr. Luis Campos, a historian of science in the UNM History Department, led me on a tour of the Very Large Array (VLA) operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, which I will detail below.

I would like to extend a special thank you to each of these great faculty members for making this trip memorable, as well as all those who have helped to make this listening and learning tour such a valuable experience so far.

There were so many other wonderful experiences, meetings and discussions on this trip, including the first stop at White Sands Missile Range (WSMR), the Department of Defense’s (DoD) largest open-air land test range. Many thanks to Joel Giblin, who led a Command Brief with several of his staff, and a tour of the J.W. Cox Range Control Center, where I learned about the incredible capabilities of various DoD controlled weapons systems. To give you a sense of the technology involved, I was informed that the building itself cost $40 million, while the technology cost $80 million. Their area of operations includes land, space and cyber.

From WSMR, we made our way further south to Las Cruces for a meeting with Dr. John Floros, the new president at New Mexico State University, and members of his staff. UNM Regent Brad Hosmer and Health Sciences Center Chancellor Dr. Paul Roth joined me. We discussed our shared concerns on the need for our colleges of education to address the K-12 crisis as well as community access to healthcare and considered how our institutions can work more collaboratively together on both. I also had the opportunity to meet with new NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu at our reception in Las Cruces. I look forward to working with President Floros and Chancellor Arvizu as we strive to improve New Mexico education together.

The following day Regent Hosmer, Regent Suzanne Quillen, Dr. Roth, UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center (UNMCCC) Director and CEO, Dr. Cheryl Willman, UNMCCC Chief Administrative Officer Rae Ann Paden and UNMCCC Senior Director of Development JooHee Bergland, and I met with a group from Cowboys 4 Cancer Research, an organization dedicated to raising money to support on-going cancer research projects at NMSU and the UNM Cancer Center. Representing Cowboys 4 Cancer Research were Executive Directors Denny and Geraldine Calhoun and Board President Lynn Arnold. This organization has evolved over the past 30 years into a diverse team of dedicated members representing the community. Funds are raised through a variety of events and are used to seed new research studies and equipment benefitting patients with promising new treatments.

Regent Hosmer, Regent Quillen, Dr. Roth, Dr. Willman and I also met with members of the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce. Once again, challenges in education, healthcare and workforce development were echoed throughout the conference room. Chamber members mentioned ways to strengthen their communities, including developing more partnerships to create good stable jobs and other incentives to keep our graduates in New Mexico. Discussion touched on the role of the universities to improve workforce capabilities and available work in the future. It was a quick hour, but very informative. Thank you to President & CEO Debbi Moore and members of the executive committee who attended. 

My next stop was Deming, where Professor Castillo helped organize a discussion with city leaders from both Deming and Silver City, including Alex Brown, Silver City town manager, Aaron Sera, Deming town manager, Benny L. Jasso, mayor of Deming, and city council member Dr. Victor Cruz. Professor Castillo is working with these leaders on the Finding Rural Program. Initiatives such as this are important to helping our rural communities develop and thrive economically. Professor Castillo shared that it has been a rewarding experience to work in the community he grew up in after feeling an inherent calling to elevate the next generation through his experiences as a designer, and to play a role in how these communities rethink their future. 

We stopped shortly in Lordsburg for gas and tried to visit the Lordsburg Hidalgo County Museum, which was closed, so I stopped in next door at the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office to say hello and to stretch my legs after a long drive.


Following a lovely reception at the Silver City Chamber of Commerce, I attended a dinner hosted by Western New Mexico University President Dr. Joe Shepard, where we had the opportunity to discuss our experiences in higher education, the ways in which we can work with local and state government leaders and how our institutions might be able to expand our collaborations. 

I want to thank the UNM Alumni Association and Vice President for Alumni Relations Dana Allen who helped arrange receptions in both Las Cruces and Silver City. I had the pleasure of meeting numerous alumni, elected officials and community members at each event and I appreciate those who took the time to come out and visit and share their thoughts with me. UNM has quite a few alumni in the southern part of the state with nearly 2,400 in the Las Cruces area and more than 400 in Silver City. Thank you for the warm welcome in each city and town.

The last day on this trip started bright and early with a hike in the Gila Wilderness, hosted by Professor Cook and his brother Dan. They led us up Cherry Creek, one of the most scenic parts of the Trail of the Mountain Spirits Scenic ByWay. The Gila Wilderness area was created in June 1924 when more than 500,000 acres were set aside by the National Forest Service at the encouragement of conservation pioneer Aldo Leopold. It was the National Forest System's first officially designated wilderness area, which eventually led to the Wilderness Act in 1964. I truly appreciated Professor Cook and his brother Dan, who were very informative tour guides along each step of the way.

The last stop on this trip was the VLA or Very Large Array. As many of you know, the VLA is located on the plains of San Agustin, west of Socorro, and is one of the world's premier astronomical radio observatories. It consists of 27 radio antennas, each more than 80 feet in diameter, in a Y-shaped configuration. Using radio astronomy, the VLA studies celestial objects that give off radio waves and studies astronomical phenomena often invisible or hidden in other portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Dr. Campos helped me to understand how the VLA operates and the research conducted through the history of the massive array of radio antennas. If you’ve never considered science from an historical perspective, I recommend taking a class with Dr. Campos.

Again, I want to thank all those along the way who have made not only this trip to southwestern New Mexico memorable, but each of the other stops along the way as well. New Mexico truly is the Land of Enchantment.