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Northern New Mexico College President Nancy “Rusty” Barceló has accomplished an amazing amount in a little less than three years. But her vision for the college expands far beyond her accomplishments so far.
Barceló quickly led NNMC to fiscal recovery, completing four audits in a 10-month period while she began an academic restructuring of the institution. She added four new colleges to the existing College of Education: Professional Studies, Arts and Sciences, Nursing and Health Sciences and Community, Workforce, and Career Technical Education.
Los Alamos National Laboratory provided substantial funding toward the development of an accredited baccalaureate degree program in nursing. The engineering department is currently working on accreditation.
Many of Barceló’s plans involve outreach to communities such as Los Alamos. Given how many people from Española work in Los Alamos, Barceló sees a natural connection between the two communities.
“There is this corridor, so to speak, where I think it’s in the best interest of our own community that we develop these important partnerships,” Barceló said.
Barceló met with the Los Alamos County council early in her tenure, but realized she had to rebuild the institution’s infrastructure before viable collaborations could be achieved.
Relationships with LANL are more developed. Barceló and key personnel at the college are in continual dialogue with LANL representatives about tailoring programs to meet the lab’s needs. LANL has provided significant financial support for the college’s science and math programs, including funding a state-of-the-art chemistry lab.
STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is a major focus with LANL and for collaborations with other Northern New Mexico colleges, including UNM-LA.
“We all have a vested interest in students being prepared to go to college,” Barceló said. “So it makes more sense if we all work together on a math program, versus each of us trying to do a math program.”
The college’s math center received a 2011-12LANL Foundation Educational Outreach Grant for STEM programs, and the 2013 New Mexico legislature awarded the program $150,000.
Barceló is exploring ways to strengthen the college’s dual mission of offering both baccalaureate and associate degrees. She wants every student to earn an associate’s degree on their way to earning their baccalaureate, so they have “something in hand” if life circumstances force them to drop out of college.
Developing strong undergraduate programs geared toward the needs of Northern New Mexican students is a priority, but Barceló’s goal is to develop “exceptional” programs that attract students from throughout the state.
Barceló’s vision for revitalizing the El Rito campus literally came to her in a dream during her second year. Academic programs had been relocated to the Española campus and the remaining heritage arts programs could not keep the campus afloat.
“It was like an epiphany, and I said, the arts can’t sustain the program, but the sciences can,” Barceló said. “Because El Rito is next to the Carson National Forest, it’s a natural laboratory for many kinds of things, such as environmental sciences.”
Although the new directive is in its infancy, the El Rito campus has turned around through offering career technical education programs such as wildland fire science, electrical technology and renewable energy. Highlands University and New Mexico State University have expressed interest in partnering with the campus.
“Many colleges and universities have labs off in these kinds of centers. None of them have the kinds of facilities that we do,” Barceló said.
The El Rito campus is also being developed as a hospitality and policy facility for hosting retreats and forums.
The college is currently seeking funding to build a residence hall to accommodate nonlocal students and to increase retention and graduation rates among its current population. Many students transfer to colleges with residential housing for what they call a “college experience.”
A residence hall would also meet the needs of younger students, which the college has been actively recruiting. The average age has dropped from 32 to 22 since Barceló’s arrival.
“Once we have a residence hall in place, I think it will change the ambiance of the college,” Barceló said. “It will not only meet the living needs of students and increase our enrollment, it will certainly be an economic benefit to the community. And I have a hunch even students from Los Alamos might want to stay in a residence hall for a college experience.”
“So things are moving. Things are beginning to happen,” Barceló said. “We have some deep financial challenges that we’re trying to address. And, unfortunately, that sometimes limits what you can do, but you keep moving forward as you’re working on the problems.”
What the college lacks in resources is offset by something that eludes larger colleges and universities. Barceló asks students who transfer from other institutions why they came.
“They say, I feel a sense of community here. The students really connect. They all know each other,” Barceló said. “And I think that is one of the jewels we have.”
Barceló believes that setting should appeal to students from Los Alamos.
“We offer a baccalaureate program that’s close to home and if they like the sense of community, small classes taught by professors, this is the place to be,” Barceló said. “They’ll get the one-on-one kind of attention that they may not get at a larger school.
“And I think we just do some really unique things that are different here.”