In her annual State of the University address, University of New Mexico President Garnett S. Stokes addressed the campus community virtually given the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and talked about innovation and the many accomplishments during the past year, once again, in the face of very trying and difficult times.

Stokes, who has served as the university’s 23rd president since 2018, opened by talking about how “innovation is such a powerful tool for improving our society” and how the word innovation describes what the University does whether it’s talking about “advances in science and medicine or developing a more sustainable future for our own institution.”

In opening, Stokes recalled a story she read on linguistic anthropology, which is the “study (of) how living people use language and other things to make meaning in their lives,” and discussed “innovation as a shared language and a powerful tool for improving our society and how the University uses it to describe what it does whether it’s talking about advances in science or medicine, developing a more sustainable future or improving our own institution.

“The past year has been a reflection of the polarized times in which we live,” Stokes said. “But innovation also drives introspection; using our curiosity and passion to improve the world around us by understanding why and how we innovate is the first step in determining how we can help bring people together to translate ideas to action. If innovation is our language, then ideas are our lexicon, and the actions we take are our story.”

Garnett Stoke SOTU 21
UNM President Garnett S. Stokes

And telling UNM’s story is of utmost importance during these trying times as Stokes highlighted many accomplishments over numerous areas during the course of the past year including:

  • U.S. Cogswell Award bestowed by the U.S. Department of Defense and Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency. UNM was the only cleared U.S. institution to receive the award in 2021.
  • UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center was awarded the National Cancer Institute’s highest designation and rating for its cancer treatment and research
  • VIQTORY, an organization that connects the military community to civilian employment and educational opportunities, recently named UNM a Military Friendly Gold University.
  • The College of Nursing was recently ranked 43rd out of nearly 700 collegiate university nursing programs by U.S. News & World Report, placing it in the top 6% of all bachelor of science in nursing programs in the nation.
  • Recognized as a Fulbright Hispanic Serving Institutions Leader, one of only 35 institutions nationwide to earn this distinction.
  • A recent Bush Institute and Opus Faveo report ranked UNM 2nd for Innovation Impact Productivity among mid-sized research universities.

Stokes also noted the accomplishments of the fabric that comprises UNM – its’ students, faculty and staff.

  • Student Emma Hotz was selected as one of only 62 national Truman Scholars honored in 2021.
  • Two student Fulbright Research Award winners, who earned this prestigious recognition in one of the most competitive cycles in the 75-year history of the program.
  • Jane Lancaster, Distinguished Professor Emerita of Anthropology, was elected to the Academy of Arts and Sciences, one of only 252 outstanding individuals elected nationally in 2021.
  • All four of our student nominees for the Goldwater Foundation Award were selected as national winners, the first time UNM has had all its nominees win this highly selective award, which went to only 410 students in the nation.
  • Twelve faculty members were honored by Advance UNM as Women in STEM Award Winners, and three professors in the College of Arts & Sciences were given one of our highest honors and named as Regents Professors

“Even in the face of a pandemic, the University of New Mexico continued with its tradition of extraordinary research and cutting-edge innovation,” Stokes said. “As the State of New Mexico’s only Research 1 institution, our brainpower, work ethic, and commitment to our community has earned us national recognition from some eminent and diverse organizations.”

“Clearly, it has been a remarkable year, made even more so because so much of what we’ve accomplished happened in the face of challenges presented by the pandemic. As I reflect on all we’ve done this past year, you all have inspired me to be even more optimistic about our future than before.”  – President Garnett S. Stokes 

The continuing pandemic and how the Lobo community came together in the face of all the ongoing COVID-related challenges was also highlighted including:

  • The opening of a vaccination clinic at The Pit which helped to administer 3,000 vaccine doses daily
  • Successful completion including several in-person events such as UNMN’s spring and fall commencement exercises
  • A vaccine requirement and incentive that saw upwards of a 90 percent vaccination rate, and further with the beginning of the spring 2022 semester
  • The UNM Health Sciences Center—doctors, nurses, researchers, clinicians—have heroically been on the front lines of our COVID response, providing quality and compassionate health care services to our community—and beyond

“What makes The University of New Mexico’s story truly great, however, will always be its Lobos,” said Stokes. “With nearly 10,000 faculty and staff, and more than 20,000 students across all our campuses, it’s our students, faculty, and staff who truly define who we are as a university--and your accomplishments over the last year have been beyond inspiring.”

Stokes also cited accomplishments in other areas such as diversity where the most recent QS Top University rankings, which examine how well universities drive diversity while enhancing employability, placed The University of New Mexico at number 74 on its list of more than 350 institutions. UNM also updated LoboWeb to provide greater flexibility in self-identifying demographic information, including gender non-binary designations, affirmed pronouns, Tribal affiliation, disability, or veteran status.

While overall enrollment has declined approximately 2.4 percent, new first-year students for Fall 2021 enrollment increased 10 percent compared to the previous year. Additionally, graduate student growth also increased including the Anderson School of Management which has seen its graduate programs increase 102 percent since 2020. UNM’s branch campuses have also enjoyed modest enrollment increases at 12 percent across campuses.

“In recent years, we have found that more residents of New Mexico are choosing UNM,” said Stokes. “Why? Because UNM, with five campuses around the state, provides an exceptional educational experience at an exceptional value. We are also proving to be competitive in terms of scholarship and financial aid packaging, as well as total cost of attendance. Moving forward, I’m confident that we will continue to buck the national trends and see enrollment successes.”

Branch campus highlights include:

  • UNM Taos received $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a workforce training certificate program that supports the local food and small-scale farming economy of the region.
  • The UNM-Valencia campus opened the new and long-planned 18,850 square foot Workforce Training Center, which will serve as a base for invaluable assistance for small businesses in Valencia County and surrounding communities.  
  • UNM-Los Alamos celebrated the first year of our Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering degree, an exceptional collaboration that makes it possible for students at UNM-Los Alamos to obtain a four-year BSME, without coming the Albuquerque campus.
  • UNM Gallup recently hosted a Diversity Summit to discuss and explore how we practice diversity in our community, how it connects with community activism, and how it reflects itself in culture.

The UNM Foundation has also enjoyed success last year recording 16 gifts in excess of $1 million or more as well as 26,344 donor gifts. In the athletics department, Vice President and Director of Athletics Eddie Nunez was honored with the Mountain West Conference’s prestigious Commissioner’s Award. Nunez is only the third recipient of the award in the conference’s 21-year history.

On the research front, Stokes’ signature Grand Challenges initiative picked up some steam after being hampered by the pandemic. UNM kicked off the Substance Use Disorders Grand Challenge Graduate Student Scholars Program, providing funding and mentoring to graduate student researchers examining health equity and inequity among historically disadvantaged groups, while UNM’s Center on Alcohol, Substance Use and Addiction received a $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for the creation of a treatment and recovery center. The Sustainable Water Resources Challenge Team is leading an impressive $15 million, five-year project funded by the National Science Foundation that engages seven universities and their communities across the region to address the impacts of climate change, including drought, wildfires and community well-being.

UNM also completed an updated master plan for Innovate ABQ, a collaborative initiative among UNM, city and county government, and the business community, to create a highly connected community where people can live, work and play addressing an important need in the city.

In conclusion, Stokes talked about UNM’s 2040: Opportunity Defined multi-year plan that will shape the UNM’s future. “UNM 2040: Opportunity Defined has presented us with a chance to think hard and think differently about how UNM can be more relevant, more visible, and more competitive as we make our way toward the middle of the 21st century,” she said. “I’m very proud of UNM 2040: Opportunity Defined. And with our ever-evolving language of innovation, we will continue to express meaningful and powerful ideas and translate them into action and impact.”