A new History class at The University of New Mexico is tackling current issues facing higher education, using the past as a guide.

‘History 220: The History of The University of New Mexico’ just wrapped up its first semester, with huge success. According to Professor Taylor Spence, it provided students with a place to express concerns to University leadership, and suggest solutions in a history-based atmosphere.

“We learned that UNM's history is really interesting,” Spence said. “Students were surprised by the breadth of talent at this school, as well as the important events that took place here.”

HIST220 class-photo
Jacinto Montoya, Dr. Taylor Spence, Portia Vescio, Gwen Orr, Jake Weber, Sophia Fletcher, Lucia DeMartino, Jordan Melendez

HIST220 was first offered in the fall semester, after the idea was sparked by Acting President Chaouki Abdallah and Associate Provost Virginia Scharff. They observed a similar class being taught at schools such as Stanford, and thought it a creative way of not only assessing past institutional decisions, but also using that past to direct discourse about the future.

“Students discovered quite a few disturbing things about UNM's history,” Spence said. “We have learned that a university needs regular research into itself to stay clear about its mission as well as to adapt to changing conditions.”

The class is a way for UNM to create regular forums to bring students, faculty, administrators and the public together to discuss the meaning of the university. It features speakers from across the academic spectrum, including engineers, sociologists, authors and historians. To launch the class, Acting President Abdallah held a guest lecture focusing on what the University’s mission includes, and what is stands for; and the hope is that by presenting various points of view about the role of higher education and universities in our modern era, students can create their own informed opinions.

“With a new president coming to campus, we would like to make it a tradition to have the president open up the course every year,” Spence said.

Sophia Fletcher, a mechanical engineering student, says she took the class because she needed a humanities course and it quickly opened her eyes to how little people know about UNM.

“It was surprising to see how little UNM students and faculty know about the history of our school,” Fletcher said. “When guest lecturers came to our class they were able to learn from us, the students, about UNM events, traditions and campus art they had never heard about.”

Since taking the course, the senior says she’s been helping to spread the message of the class – as well as the information she learned.

“When I tell other students about what we learned this semester, they had no idea so much happened on our campus,” Fletcher said.

Although the class is over for the semester, the learning continues online. HIST220 now has a timeline website dedicated to portraying the key historical points that impacted UNM. “UNM Over the Years: People, Places, and Events” gives a visual representation and written information of the University’s history and leaders.

“I would like to continue to build the website, and attract more students to learn about the history of UNM,” Spence said. “The students and I would design an app, and anyone who wants to take an art, history, and culture walk of UNM would be able to do so. In addition, the students and I strongly feel that this class should continue to be offered in the future.”

The course, available through the UNM History Department, is also open to the public – with an aim to create a place where higher-ed workers and the surrounding community can regularly convene and converse, both about current issues and past challenges and successes.