A new semester brings new faces at UNM Taos as Patrick Valdez steps in to fill the position as Chief Executive Officer of the local University of New Mexico branch.
After completing his first official full week of work at the campus, Valdez said he is feeling out the Taos area and learning as much as he can before starting the new school year. As a newcomer to the Taos community, Valdez brings with him years of educational experience in Hispanic and rural communities and returns to a slower pace from the College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York where he worked as the Dean of the Undergraduate College.
"My goal is to get to know the community and get to know the people and then together develop a plan on where we're going," Valdez said.
Leaving the big city behind, the Texas native said he was ready to come back to a small town after serving his community in the Bronx in New York City. His main goal working in higher education is to make degrees or certifications available and open to those who seek them and strives to help the community gear students toward jobs that will point them in a career direction one day.
Valdez holds a bachelor's degree from St. Edward's University, a master's degree from Teachers College, Columbia University and also holds his doctorate degree in higher education from the University of Texas at Austin. He began his career in education by working as a youth counselor after graduating with his bachelor's. While working with students over the years, Valdez' passion stems from helping students and making their dreams of graduation a reality. The best way Valdez sees fit to do so is through the administrative aspect of education, as he says that is where the decisions that affect the university or school are directly manifested.
"(Valdez) has extensive experience in Hispanic serving institutions," said UNM Taos Communications Director Bill Knief. "That's important to us ... That's a big part of what we are."
In addition to helping Hispanic students, Valdez will strive to include all members of the community who wish to pursue their education at UNM Taos. According to Valdez, members of Taos Pueblo make up nearly seven percent of the student body at UNM Taos, a number he says he wants to eventually increase during his time.
When not in his new office, Valdez said he is looking forward to exploring the town and the hiking trails in the area in his spare time.
Valdez takes the position over from interim CEO Martinez "Marty" Hewlett who was appointed by the University to the post after the resignation of Executive Director Kate O'Neill in 2016. While the position title was changed, the responsibilities and job are considered the same by UNM Taos officials. Overseeing operations at both Klauer and Civic Plaza campuses, the CEO acts as the director of the branch and head of administration.
"I'm really excited to be here and I've inherited a good, strong campus that has benefited from very good leadership," said Valdez. "I'm looking forward to carrying that torch."