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UNM president lauds importance of Los Alamos branch

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By Bennett Horne

Tony Hillerman novels once inspired Garnett Stokes to load up a popup camper and head out on a spring break trip to Los Alamos.

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Wednesday it was her new job as president of the University of New Mexico that brought her back to the Secret City, where she made a visit to the campus of the university’s Los Alamos branch the first stop on her inaugural statewide listening tour.

“This campus is really important to the University of New Mexico,” said Stokes, who took over as UNM president on March 1. “It’s in a key location in the state, they are able to help facilitate our relationships in this area of the state and facilitate economic development. I’m especially pleased that we are able to serve the students in this region with our branch campus here.”

Dr. Cynthia Rooney, chief executive officer of UNM-LA, called it “an absolute privilege” to have Stokes visit the campus.

“We had the opportunity today for her to meet with students, faculty and staff here at UNM-LA, to give her a tour around our campus and show her some of the programs that we have,” Rooney said. “She also had the opportunity to meet with individuals at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Our goal was to give her a view of UNM-LA and of Los Alamos and hopefully build bridges for future collaborations.”

Prior to accepting the position at UNM, Stokes was hired as the provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Missouri in February of 2015 and was the interim chancellor from May-August of 2017.

Before that she served as interim president, as well as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Florida State University.

“I’ve had a few people say, ‘You know, it’s really challenging to be president of the University of New Mexico,’” she said. “Well, I haven’t noticed that yet. There’s really nothing much you can throw at me that I haven’t already seen. I had a lot of things at Florida State and a lot of things at Missouri, and so I believe I am well prepared to be the leader for this university and its branch campuses.”

Stokes said two issues of importance to UNM that have already grabbed her attention deal with campus security and military students.

“On the main campus one of the issues that our students, staff and faculty face is associated with the fact that we live in a big, urban area where there are issues with safety,” she said. “So campus safety is something we hear about on the main campus.”

She continued, “We are also making some investments in trying to get the University of New Mexico back up as one of the top student veteran friendly, military friendly institutions.”

Stokes, who toured LANL earlier in the day, said she is very mindful of the presence of national labs like LANL and is eager to find the best ways UNM can work with them.

“These lab sites are really critical parts of the state of New Mexico and they’re serving the entire country,” she said. “I’m really delighted to work to strengthen the partnerships there.”

Stokes will be taking many tours to the university’s various campuses throughout the coming months, answering questions from UNM students, staff, faculty and alumni while learning more about the state.

“It is the role of the university president to get to know the state where you’re the flagship institution,” she said.

“We appreciate that this was President Stokes’ first stop on her listening tour. We’re honored that she chose our campus,” Rooney said. “She and I have had a chance to meet in the past and she recognizes that we have positive momentum and she wanted to have the opportunity to visit our campus and meet with the individuals who’ve helped make us successful.”

The first question Stokes answered Wednesday at UNM-LA may have been the most important: “Red or green?”

“Green,” she responded almost before the questioner was finished asking the question. “Although I do hear that red kind of grows on you over time, so I could do the Christmas. But I’ll tell you, I have had more green chili cheeseburgers since I’ve been here than I can count.”