Discovering a gem

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By The Staff

I have discovered a gem in Los Alamos. Tucked between small businesses and houses is the University of New Mexico–Los Alamos. I found a place where the staff and educators work hard to create a unique, welcoming environment

As a mother of three growing children, I am not your typical college student, or so I thought. I researched my options for college and decided to attend UNM-LA for one major reason, the location. The day before my first class at the university, insecurities began to fill my thoughts.

I pondered if the younger students would look at me with pity or be repulsed by my “I don’t have a lot of time” sense of style.  I wondered if my “mommy brain” would work under pressure. I did not begin classes with energy and confidence as I did in previous years and pushed past the fear of looking like a fool.  

In the back of my mind I knew that I had other college options if I didn’t like the teaching or the programs here in Los Alamos.

I decided to use my powers of observation and my curiosity to collect my own opinion about the college. Cleverly disguised as frumpy woman with occasional untamed hair, I began my fact-finding mission two years ago. The first class I attended looked more like my last family reunion than a typical college course.

There was a high school student, a retired Los Alamos National Laboratory employee, mother of two high-school students, two 30-something students and five college-age students.  I soon came to realize that the average age of a student at UNM-LA was 32 years old and the teacher-student ratio was one to 10.

When I look back, I realize that in all my years in school I have never been in a class with less than 20 students. The feel of education was more intimate so I found myself working harder because it was more about me understanding the information and less about where I might find myself in the class grading curve.

 It was almost unreal that each of my professors got to know my name without looking at their attendance sheet after a couple weeks of class.  

Each professor took time to encourage me. At first I thought it was my sparkling personality that triggered such affirmation, but then I began to note the encouragement that all the students received.

I came to value the different departments on campus as my classes changed to meet my goals.  I appreciated that no one acted like they were too busy to stop what they are doing to assist me.  I admired from afar the energy and spirit of the head librarian as she selflessly assisted students in research.

I never regretted using the free tutoring on campus. In the tutoring room, I met two incredible ladies who run the center, named Karen and Wanda.  They recruit and organize a handful of generous volunteers as well as assist students themselves.

Steve in the college store graciously spends several minutes with me every semester helping me find the correct books for each class and once even gave me a free drink when I had no money.

Last year, I walked into the bachelor/masters degree office for my first counselor/student meeting but I had to immediately look behind me to make sure that they were really offering me a cup of coffee and a doughnut.

I have only been able to meet a small fraction of the 127 part-time and full-time faculty/staff at UNM-LA.  Most of the educators also teach in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Española, or teach in addition to working at LANL.  

I wandered what other students thought about their education in Los Alamos.  I decided to run my own personal collection of evaluations from other students in my classes, in the cafeteria as well as neighbors I knew who attend UNM-LA.  I found a common statement among the students.

All of the approximately 25 students I was able to converse with had at least one educator to whom they felt there was a friendship, or least felt one educator sincerely cared about their success.

I can’t help but think of the range of personalities and the multiple backgrounds that have walked through the doors of each class.  Somehow our singular experience of trying to get through exams and homework brought a kind of respect for each person, no matter what the age.

Maturity to me means showing kindness to others quietly and without the expectation of recognition.

 If I were asked to describe the experience of education at UMN-LA, it would be mature, considerate instruction. Going to UNM-LA has been a refreshing experience.

Clegg is currently a student at UNM-LA.