Kate O’Neill, executive director of the University of New Mexico, Taos branch, was recently named one of the top 20 CEOs in the state by Albuquerque Business First.

“I appreciate the recognition and I accept it on behalf of the whole team here at UNM-Taos,” O’Neill said. “We sometimes refer to ourselves as ‘the little campus that could,’ and for good reason. We do an enormous amount with very few resources, and I have really been fortunate to be a part of the team as an adjunct, a full time faculty member, an administrator and for the last 10 years as director of the campus.”

O’Neill said that there is great sense of pride among UNM-Taos staff and faculty who have made and continue to make a positive impact on people’s lives in Taos. “What we do primarily impacts our students, certainly, but it has a ripple effect out into the whole community,” she said.

A Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is a title generally used in business, but O’Neill thinks that the branch directors at UNM are referred to as CEOs in recognition of needing to bring in resources as well as work on curriculum, programs and facilities, and the added responsibility of dealing with local government, local businesses and local and regional groups that provide input regarding what kind of programs and training are needed for workforce development in the area.

“We have a very strong link between the worlds of education and business, all the way from our Pre-K Program through graduate studies,” O’Neill said.

“It’s hard to imagine what education is going to look like 20 years from now,” O’Neill said, “but I think we want to stay small enough that we can continue to treat students as individuals, to be a place where you can sit down with a teacher or advisor and talk about issues and aspirations. We must remain an institution with reasonably priced tuition, with a highly qualified faculty with advanced degrees and a lot of practical skills: practitioner-educators who really care and are passionate about teaching, and about helping students get where they are going in life. That’s really the hallmark of a UNM-Taos education.”

After receiving her doctorate from Harvard University, O’Neill moved to Taos, where she taught psychology and had a private counseling practice. Ten years ago she was selected to take over the reins as executive director, and while she has been in office, the UNM-Taos campus has gone from two functioning buildings to the Klauer Campus of today, which sports five fully-functioning buildings, four portable classroom buildings, a recently completed 4.6 million dollar Student Services Center, paved roadways, robust infrastructure, ample parking and a long-awaited landscaping plan serving the needs of 1,800 students per semester. 

All this, along with the acquisition of the Taos Convention Center and related buildings in the heart of Taos, currently being converted into a health sciences center, came about during O’Neill’s tenure.