BLA program
(l. to r): Christine Jaramillo, Kate Krause, dean of both Honors and University Colleges, and Mariah Harrison.

The University of New Mexico Bachelor of Liberal Arts (BLA) program offers non-traditional students and UNM staff wishing to complete their degree for advancement in their current position, the opportunity to design a degree that is just the right fit.

Part of the Liberal Arts and Integrative Studies (LAIS) department under University College, the BLA program is trying to raise awareness to make sure that the populations that would benefit most from the program, such as UNM staff, are being reached.

“Our program is an excellent option for staff because it’s flexible and self-designing,” said Mariah Harrison, senior student success specialist in the University College BLA program. "If they are able to work with their supervisor on managing their schedule, they can take day or evening or even online classes. So it makes it fairly easy to ensure they finish their degree, either in the area they are currently working, with aspirations of moving up, or if they are looking to switch things up professionally and just need to take the next step in terms of their degree sequence.”

Every semester, dedicated LAIS advisors attend the Staff-as-Students event, schedueld for Wednesday, April 8. The Registrar’s office partners with Admissions and departments that offer financial aid to host the event prior to the start of semester. The purpose is to assist staff members interested in starting school, continuing school, completing the registration process, having “holds” removed on accounts and seeing an advisor. 

“We see dozens of people on that day,” Harrison said. “So we know the need is there. Our concerted effort is to raise awareness of the BLA program and share with staff what it can do for them, no matter where they are in terms of degree completion. We want them to know that we are an option.”

Many staff members utilize the program to increase their grade level at UNM and according to Harrison, a majority of them already have credits toward receiving their Bachelor’s degree but have not yet completed it for various reasons.

“I’ve talked with many staff over the past 20 years that have used the BLA program to promote within their positions and find other positions,” said Tracy Skipp, associate dean and director of LAIS. “I think the flexibility that we offer allows them to take full advantage of prior learning. I think it’s one of the biggest benefits to working at the university, a place that is invested in everyone’s education, and our program is 110% behind that.” 

In addition to this being an excellent degree for staff, Skipp said that he’s advised and graduated many of UNM Faculty’s children as well. Especially interdisciplinary faculty who already appreciate the benefits of a broad, strong foundation of support for advanced study.

Lukas Cash, LAIS student success specialist, agrees that the flexibility the BLA program offers is a great benefit but added that the program also provides staff the opportunity to be incredibly precise with the classes they take. “We start the conversation by asking what their current position is, and what sort of skills and educational opportunities would help them move up in their current or desired position. Then we narrow down the numerous academic departments here at UNM to those few areas that are going to be most relevant,” he said.

The BLA program is helping Christine Jaramillo, an IT administrative coordinator at UNM, reach her goals. “I have more autonomy in taking courses from different disciplines, especially now that it’s becoming more difficult for me to find ones in the 300 and 400 levels that fit into my work day. The curriculum has been well-rounded and stimulating,” she said.

Jaramillo, a non-traditional student, graduates in fall of 2015. Her goal is to find work in the Student Services area. Throughout the years, she’s volunteered for mentoring and coaching through a program offered by the UNM Office of Student Academic Success. She said that she finds working with students immensely gratifying.

“It’s been a bit of a long road,” Jaramillo said, “but I’ve finally arrived. This year I get my degree. I couldn’t have done without the BLA program and all the wonderful support and advisement I received from the LAIS staff.”

The LAIS advisors are holding “Pop up” advising sessions for UNM staff on Tuesday, Feb. 10 and Wednesday, Feb. 11 from 1 to 2 p.m. in the Zimmerman Library Commons.

For information regarding the program, visit LAIS or contact Mariah Harrison, 277-0112 or Lukas Cash, 277-8276.