Laura Valdez has played many key roles at The University of New Mexico over the last 34 years. As she enters retirement, Lobos reflect on how she has impacted first-generation college students and advisors.  

“Things that we take for granted when we’ve learned what the system is about, that we forget what it's like to absolutely not know anything and not have anybody in your family to go to and ask these questions,” Valdez said.

Laura Valdez
Laura Valdez

Valdez grew up in Coyote, N.M. and later pursued a degree at UNM in Albuquerque. As a first-gen student herself, Valdez helped new students navigate the difficulties of college. Since her time in college, she has seen a growth in attendance and support for first-gen students. 

Because of hardworking UNM staff and faculty members, UNM was recently declared a First-generation Forward Institution by the Center for First-gen Student Success. 

“…Laura Valdez was especially attentive to the difficulties many UNM students have in understanding how a university works, identifying opportunities, and, most importantly, finding a college community in which they feel that they belong,” said Pamela Cheek, associate provost for student success. “Her work on first-generation advocacy culminated with her securing for UNM the First-generation Forward designation with the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators.”

Valdez is very proud of the tools she has implemented to help UNM advisors assist students.

“Because of her work, advisors at UNM are not bureaucratic schedulers. Instead, by building education and access into their work, they provide students with tools to make smart academic choices, navigate the university successfully, and find needed support resources,” Cheek said.  

Valdez has more than 30 years of experience in higher education, including several positions at The University of New Mexico including director of University Advisement, a position she was appointed to in 2017. In her position as director of the University College Advising Center, she worked to decrease student wait time, while also improving advising quality. She has also worked in Student Affairs, including for more than 10 years as director of New Student Orientation.

While working with NSO, Valdez made a number of contributions. She created the Family Connection Program, made orientation mandatory for all undergraduates, moved NSO to an online registration system, and created online orientation programs to accommodate transfer and returning students. She has been with University College since 2010, and has been a part-time instructor since 2007. 

As Valdez enters a new phase of her life, she plans to enter a new career path where she will train working professionals.

“UNM has made a tremendous impact because it’s been such a huge part of my career,” Valdez said. “It really has helped me grow and develop as a professional. It has provided me the space to kind of explore and develop new programs…”

UNM has many resources which support first-gen students including the College Enrichment Program and the Peer Learning Facilitator program.