When Lobos return to campus this fall, log in online, or some combination of the two, there will be yet another place University of New Mexico learning is taking place: 3rd period. 

New Mexico high-schoolers across the state are getting the opportunity to enhance their schedules from calculus, literature and physics, with the vital, unique field of Chicana and Chicano studies. 

“We realized as a faculty that it is important to provide a bridge from high schools to UNM in order to successfully recruit, and in order to successfully prepare and retain students in degree programs,” UNM Chicana and Chicano Studies Department Chair Irene Vasquez said. “We're trying to move further into the community in creative ways, so high schools are an important constituency for us. We’re supporting students and thinking of them as young scholars.” 

Starting in 2016, UMM’s Department of Chicana and Chicano studies aspired to not only help high school students get a jump start on their higher education, but bring in a special perspective often missing in classrooms. That’s how the College Preparation Program (CPP), now known as Initiatives for Student-engaged Educational Ecosystems College (I-SEE COLLEGE) began. 

Students working on curanderismo
Curanderismo practice

“There were teachers at that time who were looking to the department for an academic partnership. They wanted to ensure that their students were college ready and that they were familiar enough with the university campus to feel welcomed.  Students are in need of this type of academic preparation,” Vasquez said. 

A few Albuquerque area high schools were hooked right off the bat, Atrisco Heritage, Career Enrichment Center, and Highland High School were early participants in the program. Teachers who were able to take on this extra work, and who were passionate about the subject matter, linked arms with UNM. 

“They were looking for teachers, and I hoped that my kids could do that. That's kind of where it all came together. We were already offering the class, so I thought we ‘let's make it dual credit,’” Highland High School Teacher Robert Frausto said. “Now they're learning Chicana and Chicano history and culture, something that has been diminished at the high school level and earning college credit at the same time.” 

“When Vasquez first approached me with the opportunity of Joining the I-SEE COLLEGE Program I truly had no idea how life-changing the experience would be,” RFK Charter High School Chicana and Chicano Studies, English and Language Arts, and Music Instructor Keith Sanchez said. 

The successes and praise were not slow to come. Fun, learning and mentoring were taking place, all while students were earning dual-credits.  

Student in garden
I-SEE COLLEGE students learn

“It's pretty interesting, nice and transformational. We're providing them with the ability to have that transition, and make it comfortable because they have us there. We not only make sure they get ahead and are prepared for college, but we continue to be like mentors for them even there on campus,” Career Enrichment Center Instructor Gabino Noriega said.  

Students engage in three major subject areas: intro to Chicana and Chicano Studies, intro to comparative ethnic studies and Chicana and Chicanx musical expressions. 

“Our history really hasn't been taught structurally. We didn't have that when I was in high school,” Frausto said. “Now, they're learning their own history, and the research has shown that kids who learn their history, and that their culture is appreciated and honored at the high school level are more inclined to continue their education at the university level.” 

Expect lessons on expressing history through music, New Mexico land and water rights, Chicano civil rights and the role of women in the Mexican Revolution.  

“Through the program we're trying to educate people that these courses are central to the history of New Mexico. Right now, we’re preparing our students to go into careers and professions that are going to serve the state,” Vasquez said. 

Now, CPP has rebranded as I-SEE COLLEGE and has expanded to seven total Albuquerque high schools, and a handful of other New Mexico school districts- Las Cruces, Taos, Santa Rosa, Las Vegas and Los Lunas. Each teacher, no matter their experience or where they call home, can collaborate with one another. 

“This is really needed because I think there are areas where a lot of new teachers struggle, but it’s because they're not given the tools to address some of the things that may be coming up in the community,” Noriega said. “Our goal is to better prepare new teachers as well to be able to to address the issues that our students face too.” 

That connection of teacher to teacher, also continues from the high school classrooms, to UNM classrooms. 

“Us being familiar with faculty on campus, we can say, ‘hey, you should take this teacher, or find a class with them. In a lot of ways, having those interconnections and being able to call on other faculty for support, is an important piece of what we do,” Frausto said. 

Once underway, research has shown that through I-SEE COLLEGE, or as it was known then, CPP, the high school graduation rate for participants was 97%, compared to the statewide average of 75%. Vasquez estimates over 900 students have been involved with the program since 2016. 

“We're invested in it because year after year, we hear how these students' lives are changed. And, it’s not only the student, the entire family's life is changed through this program,” Vasquez said. 

Additionally, 80% of the students who earn these credits and grab their cap and gown, end up attending UNM with that extra boost. 

“The hope is that the more that they come to UNM, the more they connect with the students and personnel of UNM. We hope there’s a greater sense of comfort and belonging that they will have when they become UNM students,” Vasquez said. 

It’s something special for these instructors and Vasquez, who have seen students move through life, through this program–starting as high schoolers and ending as UNM alumni. 

“We've had some of these kids since they were freshmen in high school, and now they're juniors in college, and we're still with them,” Noriega said. ‘I've had several students come through the program and they become active on campus. It’s been very impactful for them to just have someone that they are familiar with and knowledgeable, when they didn't even think they were going to be able to go to college.” 

"Chicane studies helped me as a Mexican American read about the knowledge of our family history and how it is prevalent to the world today. I learned practices and theories that help me exercise a forward thinking lifestyle in my identity and the longevity of the culture that I love so much." – I-SEE COLLEGE Student Santiago Saenz.

Now officially a UNM alum, Santiago Saenz was one of those lucky students.

My longtime teacher and hermano Gabino Noriega first taught me my history through such classes, but really enforced a Chicana and Chicano centered education once I entered his college classrooms,” Saenz said. “Not only this, but he has been a great help in my music career, lending his classrooms and his support for my art form whenever he could since I was in high school. I would not live the life I enjoy everyday without the influence of chicane studies and above all teachers like Gabino Noriega.”

Sure, there’s the positive quantitative aspect, but what’s even more impactful, is the qualitative wins. 

“People that have done it know how important it is to have someone familiar there. It gives them a sense of home.  You're not just a teacher. You're a tío. You're a cousin, you know? I mean, there's all these hats that you end up taking on being a teacher, if you're truly doing it,” Noriega said. 

It’s no secret every teacher goes above and beyond for their students. Still, these instructors for I-SEE COLLEGE often find themselves providing personal anecdotes, giving advice in and outside the classroom and helping with college applications. 

“I've had phone calls late at night with a student needing help registering for a class, or wondering which one to take. They come back to us. Rather than asking their college counselor, they're asking us for help,” Frausto said. 

One of the other key wins is that New Mexico’s Hispanic high school students get to learn about Chicana & Chicano history and culture from experts, who also happen to be outstanding teachers and mentors. 

“The growth in my students after learning the richness of their stories, hidden histories, and indomitable contribution to this country and the world, has been astounding,” Sanchez said. “Not only has it spurred a measurable increase in students choosing a path towards higher education and community service, but agency to fiercely assert their voice in a world they thought would never listen.”

“They see themselves in what we're teaching. That's a big part of it. The stuff we do in class, we give it from that perspective where they are able to see themselves and see their histories that usually wouldn't be shared. They love it." – I-SEE COLLEGE Instructor Gabino Noriega

Instructors like Frausto, Noriega and Sanchez do the work for a modest honorarium, something Vasquez is trying to change. Since 2016, the program has operated year by year through junior bill and RPSP funding. This next legislative session, there’s a proposal to give I-SEE COLLEGE permanent and expanded funding. 

“We really feel like this is our year. It’s absolutely essential for our teachers and students to have access to this program. Before the class starts, the high school instructors are already working and advising students on the classes,” Vasquez said. “Once the semester starts, the high school teachers have to ensure that their students are engaged in college-level learning and complete the same type of student learning assessment that college students do. That's not a required part of their regular teaching job. In addition, they develop college-level curriculum and guide students through that curriculum on top of what they're doing for their high school instruction, which is a lot.” 

In the meantime, these instructors who do go the extra mile, do get the opportunity to bolster their education. There are now 17 teachers across the state, who are not only developing and implementing Chicana and Chicano lessons, but plan to earn their master’s and doctoral degrees through UNM. 

“Teaching Chicana and Chicano studies has changed me. I keep telling the kids I won't retire until you have to call me ‘doctor.’ It changes the teachers as well as the students. I think that's across the board, and any Chicana and Chicano studies teacher or ethnic studies teacher you talk to will pretty much tell you the same thing,” Frausto said. 

UNM’s I-SEE COLLEGE is a one-of-a-kind experience for those in front of and behind the desk. It’s single-handedly making connections, ensuring Chicana and Chicano stories get told and boosting the future of New Mexico. 

“This is who I am. This has given me the opportunity to express myself in a new way as an instructor. It's given me it's empowered me too. This put me on the right path to do something that I think is benefiting not, not myself, but my community in general,” Noriega said. “It's important for you to see someone who comes from the same background as you.”