As the fall semester comes into view and Lobos begin in-person instruction after a year of remote learning, one of UNM's most gracious leaders will be noticeably absent. Scholes Hall will feel a little less crowded, Welcome Back Days will have one less cherry blazer in attendance, and the campus in general will notice a considerable figure missing this fall because Eliseo “Cheo” Torres will retire Aug. 1 as the vice president of Student Affairs.
It’s the position he’s held for the last 25 years.
Torres said he’s always had a passion for working with students. Before becoming a Lobo, Torres was the vice president for External Affairs at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, where he also taught within the Bilingual Doctoral Program. He subsequently served as the University’s interim president and vice president for Student Affairs.
Torres’s passion extended when his career began at UNM. He said he committed to one main goal—help improve the lives of the students through student services and student life.
James Holloway, UNM provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, said he credits Torres with helping bring the Student Affairs division together under common purpose, conceiving of new programs for students, while growing the resources needed to make those conceptions real.
“He’s had to make some tough decisions during his quarter-century at UNM, but he’s always done so with empathy and goodwill in his heart,” Holloway said.
Torres said the most notable change he’s seen in the last 25 years, includes the different ways students have become more creative in their involvement on campus.
“Students have always been involved, but throughout the years there has been more and more involvement at The University of New Mexico,” he said. “We have Spring Storm, Fall Frenzy—services projects where students can give back to the community which is stronger than ever.”
He said students are also taking charge in making decisions of where their student fees go by serving on the Student Fee Review Board.
“The students now have empowered themselves to make decisions and get involved and give back service to the community,” he said.
Among his UNM accomplishments, he said there are a handful that stand out:
- Curanderismo course
- Student Affairs Fellowship Program
- Mezquite Golf Tournament
- Weekly Chit Chat
Traditional medicine without borders
Growing up, Torres said his parents introduced him to the rich history of the ancient art of Curanderismo and in return that grew into a deep love and respect of the tradition.
“I grew up in South Texas and was always fascinated by the folk traditions and folkways of Mexico and my Mexican American roots,” Torres said.
Then, 21 years ago Torres introduced that history to the UNM campus through a hands-on approach during a two-week summer class. The class is still being taught today and is the only one like it in the United States; more than 2,000 students have taken it.
“People want to know about the medicine of their culture, of their grandmothers or grandfathers,” Torres said. “We offer something unique in that we work with some of the top healers around the country and around the world in this class.”
“The energy this course brings to our campus this summer is so unique - but at the heart of that energy is Cheo,” said Anthony Fleg, one of the class instructors. “It is his vision, his creativity and his dedication to being a healer that makes the course what it is.”
Tonita Gonzales, a local traditional healer, teaches many parts of the class each summer and says that Torres has been a mentor and inspiration to her and so many others around the globe.
“For over 25 years, Cheo has advocated for us to remember our historical and ancestral gifts of the Curanderismo culture and language,” she said.
The popularity of the course led to Torres offering an additional set of online courses for UNM students while publishing five books on Curanderismo. He has consistently seen upwards of 150 students enroll in the online class each time it’s offered.
Student Affairs Fellowship Program
In 1999 Torres began a 15-month fellowship program aimed at providing opportunities for UNM staff to gain leadership and professional development skills while assisting him on specific projects. The program lasted for more than 20 years and graduated 132 participants.
“I’m proud of the fellowship program and how long it lasted,” Torres said. “Many of the fellows stayed at UNM, earned their terminal degrees and are not only serving in high-ranking positions in the division, but also teaching classes and continually giving back to UNM.”
The program opened multiple opportunities for participants and a unique way to see the inside operations of Student Affairs and its role within the University. At least 11 fellows went on to become associate vice presidents, chief operations officers or directors at UNM, while others have obtained prestigious positions at other universities.
Jenna Crabb, director of UNM Career Services, served as a fellow in 2003 and considers the experience an extremely beneficial part of her career path.
“Dr. Torres was instrumental in not only sharing how the university works but was very encouraging of me to continue my educational pursuits and career goals,” she said. “Learning about the ins-and-outs of Student Affairs and how UNM works helped solidify my desire and passion to continue my career in higher education.”
As a fellow, Crabb remembers being invited to attend the Diversity Leadership Council where Torres served as a board member. She said she credits the fellowship program as helping to underscore her career in higher education.
“The program improved people’s lives,” Torres said. “I think when you see people’s lives change for the better, we’ve made a difference.”
Mezquite Golf Tournament
For the last 12 years, under Torres’s leadership, Student Affairs has teamed up with Sergio Bermudez, owner of the El Mezquite Markets in Albuquerque, to host an annual golf tournament that raises scholarships dollars.
The partnership has raised more than $2 million and awarded scholarships to more than 200 students.
“Sergio and his family are very generous and well-known throughout the community,” Torres said. “Golfers come from not only New Mexico but surrounding states to participate in the tournament because they know they are giving money to help our students. I take pride in the fact that every penny raised goes directly to the students.”
Weekly Chit Chat
Every Wednesday Torres sends out a weekly communication called the Chit Chat. It informs the UNM community about the happenings in the vice president’s office and throughout the Division of Student Affairs.
What started as a written document sent via email evolved into a video series over the years. Throughout the years, the Chit Chat has become more popular and receives requests throughout the University from individuals who wanted to share their events, services or programs.
Torres recorded one final Chit Chat that will premiere on the Student Affairs YouTube channel, Wednesday, July 21.
Torres said he is grateful for his time at UNM, the students he’s impacted, the staff he’s led and the friendships he’s made. He said every program he’s initiated, along with every decision he’s made while in the vice president role at UNM were made with one specific purpose—improving the lives of students.
“It’s always nice to see students start as freshmen, and continue to graduate,” Torres said. “It’s a great feeling to know that not only their lives will be better, but their kids’ lives will be better, and it will keep going through generations. This University has changed not only my life, but the lives of my wife, my son and my daughter who have all graduated as Lobos.”
Although Torres plans to return to teach at UNM, he will also make spending time with family a priority.
“I have two grandkids that I will get to enjoy more,” he said. “My wife, Nieves and I are hoping to travel both in and out of the United States—we already have one trip planned for Peru.”