In a famous scene at the end of the 1972 movie, “The Candidate,” victorious Robert Redford pulls his campaign manager aside on election night and urgently whispers, “What do we do now?!”

I might have had a similar reaction to last month’s election results in Rio Rancho, when voters decisively reaffirmed their support for higher education and UNM’s presence there, were it not for all the groundwork laid before I became UNM West’s new chief executive officer in July.  But thanks to the labors of many, I know a lot about of what we need to do now in this important corner of the University of New Mexico. 

First: as a matter of priority, we know UNM West needs to be a full participant in UNM’s goal to help more students graduate.  That means we’ll be working hard with all the appropriate main campus departments to develop the academic offerings and support systems to enable that.  We’re determined to have a solid curriculum of core classes and selected degree completion options in place by the end of the academic year.

Second: as a matter of mission, we know that the fundamental reason UNM has a campus in Rio Rancho is to serve the educational needs of the area.  So we will be working closely with city and county schools, hospitals, businesses, governments, tribes, and others to ensure we’re providing the right programs to support their needs and aspirations.  That will especially include attention to the healthcare and technology workforces that uniquely define Rio Rancho at this moment in its development.

Third: as a matter of financial viability, we know UNM West needs to grow and to bring new students into the university in the process.  That will entail outreach to residents not currently served by UNM programming, from dual enrollment partnerships with area high schools, to degree completion options for working adults.

Finally: as a matter of identity, we want UNM West to be innovative in all aspects of its being, from the kinds of programs it offers to the way they are delivered.  The former might include degrees or other academic programs unique to that campus; the latter, everything from classroom technologies, to pedagogies, to schedules, to tuition structures.  This will be the most challenging part of UNM West’s development and consequently will require the most time and effort.  But how often do you get the chance to build an academic enterprise almost from scratch?  We want to be sure we don’t waste the opportunity.

“Dream no small dreams,” wrote the German poet Johann Goethe, “for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”

“The world is filled with people with good ideas and very short of people who can even rake a leaf,” countered the American wit Andy Rooney in his very first newspaper column.

With due deference to both these ideas, we’re eager to see what UNM West can become in the next few months and years.  For a primer on the evolution of our planning and development efforts, see the 2006 “UNM West Campus Design Charrette; the “UNMW Facilities Master Plan” developed in 2009; and the “UNM West 2020 Plan” prepared by Carol Parker, ACE Fellow and now UNM’s Associate Provost for Academic Personnel, on the UNM West website.  

Better still, make the drive out to Rio Rancho and pay us a visit!  We’d love to hear your thoughts.