The University of New Mexico-Gallup branch campus recently hosted a two-day meeting of the New Mexico Legislature’s interim Indian Affairs Committee during which the chancellor of the branch campus delivered an update on projects and programs in the works.

UNM-Gallup Chancellor Sabrina Ezzell opened her presentation by welcoming members of the committee to the Gallup campus and thanking them for their hard work and continued support of higher education each year. Ezzell noted that she has been serving as chancellor for a little longer than a year, so she experienced working closely with the Legislature for the first time during the 2023 session.

“I’ve been so impressed with the amount of work that goes into what you do,” Ezzell said. “So, I’m thanking you from the bottom of my heart for helping the people of McKinley, Cibola and San Juan counties.”

Better serving Native American students

One development in particular from Ezzell’s presentation captured committee members’ attention while also spurring suggestions and challenges from lawmakers.

Ezzell shared that earlier this summer, UNM-Gallup applied for a five-year, $3 million grant from the Native American-Serving Non-Tribal Institutions (NASNTI) Program.

Eligible institutions are defined as non-tribal colleges or universities that have an undergraduate enrollment of 10% or more Native American students. With its close proximity to the Navajo Nation and Pueblo of Zuni, UNM-Gallup serves a population that is made up of 68% Native American students.

Ezzell said that if UNM-Gallup is awarded the NASNTI grant, the money would be used to create a Native American Student Center where students would have access to resources such as academic advisement, career services, and case management for basic needs coordination. The money would also be used to hire a center director and a case manager.

“The priorities of the program are to improve Native American students’ social, emotional, academic and career development by creating a positive, inclusive and identity-safe climate,” Ezzell said. “Another grant priority supports projects that increase post-secondary access, affordability, completion and success.”

Ezzell said the grant awards are expected to be announced in September, so UNM-Gallup is anxiously awaiting the results.

Finding long-term financial support

State Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-McKinley County, noted that grant-funded programs tend to be successful for a few years but face the risk of failing when their funding runs out.

New Mexico state Rep. Patty Lundstrom, D-McKinley County, asks questions during a meeting of the New Mexico Legislature’s interim Indian Affairs Committee recently.

To prevent that from happening, Lundstrom suggested requesting set-aside monies from the Higher Education Funding Formula to provide long-term support for initiatives similar to the Native American Student Center for UNM-Gallup and other schools throughout the state.

“These grants are great, but at the end of the day, the programming has to continue, and I’m happy to help with it,” Lundstrom said.

State Sen. Benny Shendo, a Democrat who represents Bernalillo, McKinley, Rio Arriba, San Juan and Sandoval counties, echoed Lundstrom’s statement about grant funding being temporary.

“You’re going to have your soft dollars to create a case manager and a center director when, in my mind, that should be the core of this institution’s work using I&G (instruction and general) dollars,” Shendo said.

Shendo said he previously worked for UNM in Albuquerque and visited the Gallup campus 15 years ago at the request of the former director to address how to better serve Native American students. However, Shendo said the dynamic in Gallup has not changed since then.

“I’m not going to hold back anymore because we keep doing this, creating programs … on soft dollars while the money is there,” he said. “Yet, we don’t use any of our own instructional dollars to create this so they have permanency.”

Shendo challenged Ezzell as chancellor and asked her what she’s willing to do to keep the Native American Student Center going beyond the five-year grant period.

Ezzell later responded that she agreed with Shendo.

“I was kind of surprised we (UNM-Gallup) had not applied (for the grant in the past),” she told the committee. “I agree that it should have been something in the I&G funding, but at least we can get the funding started and figure out a way to maintain it, so I think it’ll be beneficial if we get that grant.”

Native language preservation and revitalization

Ezzell also shared that an invitational priority of the grant supports projects that strengthen and institutionalize Native language preservation and revitalization. She said this would enable UNM-Gallup to develop and host Indigenous knowledge conferences that support language preservation.

State Rep. John Block, R-Otero County, asked whether the grant would create language courses in the curriculum as well, but Ezzell clarified the grant would primarily focus on knowledge conferences.

New Mexico state Sen. Benny Shendo Jr., a Democrat who represents Bernalillo, McKinley, Rio Arriba, San Juan and Sandoval counties, makes comments during a meeting of the New Mexico Legislature’s interim Indian Affairs Committee.

However, UNM-Gallup does currently have introductory and intermediate Navajo language courses, including one course that teaches medical terms and phrases with a focus on differences in wellness beliefs.

Block said he supports Native language courses as part of the curriculum.

“I would like to see people being able to keep their culture by passing on their language to the next generation,” he said. “If there’s anything we could do to reallocate funding or whatever it is, I think this is a perfect place for that.”

Throughout the two-day meeting, the interim Indian Affairs Committee also heard reports and presentations from the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial Association, the Navajo Nation Council, the Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, the Red Water Pond Road Community, the Eastern Navajo Dine Against Uranium Mining, the McKinley County DWI Drug Court, the Navajo Code Talkers Museum Corporation, and Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services

The committee is scheduled meeting Sept. 12-14 at Navajo Preparatory School, Huerfano Chapter House and Nageezi Chapter House.

In other news

Ezzell also shared several other campus updates and developments during her presentation to the interim Indian Affairs Committee.

Ezzell talked about UNM-Gallup’s enrollment figures, noting that there was a significant decrease in the number of students in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Enrollment dropped by approximately 500 students at that time, but Ezzell said students are steadily returning.

Total enrollment during the Fall 2022 semester was 2,097. Of that amount, 1,584 were students admitted directly at UNM-Gallup. The remaining 513 were students admitted at UNM in Albuquerque and other branches who took courses through the Gallup campus.

UNM-Gallup enrollment has increased approximately 20% since the height of the pandemic.

“We hope the increase in enrollment continues as more students utilize the Opportunity Scholarship and as we roll out new programs on our campus,” Ezzell said.

Those new programs include an associate degree in fire science as well as certificates in licensed practical nursing, business principles and hospitality.

Ezzell said another project in the works is the renovation of the fine arts department at UNM-Gallup. She said that art classes are popular on campus, which makes sense because the arts and culture industries are among the main drivers of New Mexico’s economy.

“Based on a report published by the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, Native Americans in McKinley and Cibola counties are part of the largest concentration of cultural workers, including jewelers and visual artists in the northwest region,” Ezzell said.

She said a general obligation bond, if approved by the Higher Education Department, may be presented to the Legislature in 2024 to help make the renovation possibly.

Another important development that Ezzell shared was the reopening of the daycare on campus.

UNM-Gallup has partnered with Gallup-McKinley County Schools to open the Bright Futures Childcare Center, which serves GMCS teachers and UNM-Gallup students. UNM-Gallup is the landlord of the building while GMCS is the vendor and operator of the facility.

“Community college students are often parents, and many are single moms,” Ezzell said. “Having a daycare for single moms increases their graduation rates and success by 21%. The daycare center would also operate as a lab environment for students in the areas of teacher education and nursing, where they will observe the developmental stages of children up to 3 years of age.”

Featured photo: Dr. Sabrina Ezzell, left, the chancellor of The University of New Mexico-Gallup, delivers a presentation to the New Mexico Legislature’s interim Indian Affairs Committee in the Student Services and Technology Center on the Gallup campus.