Leaders representing The University of New Mexico-Gallup met with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and celebrated Gallup-McKinley County Day at the New Mexico Legislature in Santa Fe recently.
The trip gave UNM-Gallup representatives the opportunity to reconnect with legislators, advocate for important initiatives, support community partners, and highlight local achievements.
“Gallup-McKinley County Day is an opportunity to meet with the governor and thank her for her support on county, city, school district and college projects,” UNM-Gallup Chancellor Sabrina Ezzell said. “It’s also an opportunity to share concerns with her and recognize the hard work that we are all doing to make our community the best place possible. I think it’s really important for her to see how much we care about Gallup.”
UNM-Gallup Local Advisory Board Chairman Ralph Richards and newly sworn-in board member Raymond Calderon joined Ezzell in Santa Fe along with a team of local partners, including the City of Gallup, McKinley County, Gallup-McKinley County Schools, and Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services.
As part of an annual tradition, the group descended on the Roundhouse for Gallup-McKinley County Day to advocate for the region and hand out colorful corn necklaces, which are highly sought after every year.
Both the House and Senate commemorated Wednesday, Jan. 24, as Gallup-McKinley County Day. They also honored four residents who have left their mark on the community: Doug Decker, Joe DiGregorio, Mike Kleeberger and Kent Wilson.
The group also delivered special pins made of silver to the governor and all of the legislators in both chambers. The pins are highly revered every year too.
This year’s pin design was a piece of pottery featuring wave symbols to represent how critical water is to the region.
Gallup-McKinley County Day closed with a dinner and reception at Eldorado Hotel & Spa, giving local leaders more opportunities to network with legislators, cabinet secretaries and other influential people from throughout the state.
Special guests included New Mexico Lt. Gov. Howie Morales, Rep. Harry Garcia, Sen. Steven Neville, Rep. Patty Lundstrom, Rep. D. Wonda Johnson, Sen. George Muñoz, and Navajo Nation Executive Staff Assistant Cal Curley.
Meeting the governor
The Gallup-McKinley group then met with Gov. Lujan Grisham in her conference room the following day — Thursday, Jan. 25 — to ask for her continued support on various initiatives.
In his introduction, Evan Williams, the executive director of the Northwest New Mexico Council of Governments, expressed his appreciation for Ezzell as the chancellor of UNM-Gallup.
“She not only has a vision for our branch, but she cares about the people who come to that branch, so I just wanted to say we’re very pleased to have someone like Sabrina at the helm,” Williams said.
Richards echoed the sentiment, calling Ezzell a “rock star.”
On behalf of UNM-Gallup, Richards thanked Lujan Grisham for nursing expansion funds, which are helping to initiate a licensed practical nurse program and increase the growth of the registered nurse pathway at the branch campus.
He went on to thank the governor for Tribal Education Initiative funding, which supports recruitment and advising for students pursuing teacher education at UNM-Gallup.
Lujan Grisham interjected to ask Ezzell to check on the branch campus’ teacher education curriculum to ensure the “Science of Reading” is being taught.
The Science of Reading, also known as Structured Literacy, is a form of evidence-based reading instruction that the governor has been advocating for. In September 2023, she announced plans to pursue funding from the Legislature to construct a literacy institute for New Mexicans of all ages.
Lujan Grisham said most of New Mexico’s universities, until recently, have not been teaching the Science of Reading, resulting in children statewide being unable to read proficiently.
“I keep interrupting, but I hope it feels like I care about these issues,” Lujan Grisham said. “I want to pay attention. I want you to succeed. I want students to live there, stay there, have a family there, work there and develop their communities. New Mexico is now in the top 10 states for inbound growth, which has never happened in my lifetime, so we’re on the right track. We just got to make sure the cracks in our foundations get filled so we’re solid.”
Ezzell assured the governor that UNM-Gallup officials already met with the dean of the UNM College of Education & Human Services to discuss future changes to the curriculum.
Creating opportunity in NM
Richards continued to thank the governor for establishing the Opportunity Scholarship, which was given to more than 500 students at UNM-Gallup for awards totaling $357,000 during the 2022-2023 academic year.
He went on to express gratitude for Lujan Grisham’s student support initiatives, specifically for mental health, as well as workforce funding, which supports credit and non-credit pathways for the trades and other professional careers.
“And the one that’s really important is the higher ed unified priorities for (fiscal year) ’25,” Richards said. “We request support for an increase in I&G (instruction and general) funding and dual credit.”
Higher education institutions in New Mexico collectively are asking the Legislature for a 10.5% increase in instruction and general funding — for a total of $83.1 million. The institutions are also requesting $15 million from sources outside the funding formula to support dual credit programs over a three-to-five-year period.
“Love dual credit,” Lujan Grisham said. “We’re working on the right sizing of I&G and really have appreciated particularly what the branches are doing around the state. We have better access for all ages. You’ve done an amazing job of creating all of those access points, including on campus. … We have to really figure out what students need and where they need it, and they have to adapt, and they are. Their online programs are really good, so I appreciate that.”
Richards closed by noting UNM-Gallup’s total student enrollment is up 10% and credit hours are up 12%.
“The scholarships are doing wonders in our area,” he said. “And I hope we have better things to report next year.”
Carousel photo captions
- New Mexico Lt. Gov. Howie Morales addresses the crowd while McKinley County Board of Commissioners Chairman Robert Baca listens in the background during the Gallup-McKinley County Day reception at Eldorado Hotel & Spa in Santa Fe Jan. 24, 2024.
- New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks while UNM-Gallup Local Advisory Board member Raymond Calderon listens during a recent meeting in the governor's office in Santa Fe.
- UNM-Gallup Chancellor Sabrina Ezzell, left, laughs with Local Advisory Board member Ralph Richards during a meeting in the governor's office in Santa Fe.
- UNM-Gallup Local Advisory Board member Raymond Calderon takes a photo of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham holding a Lobo toy after a meeting in her office.