UNM Student Regent Jacob Wellman’s term expires this semester, so a new student regent needs to be chosen.
Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Wellman in February 2011, and his term ends Dec. 31. UNM President Robert Frank submitted his nominations for the new student regent to Gov. Martinez two weeks ago, and she will select an applicant to serve a two-year term at UNM.
“As I interviewed the finalists, we discussed the role and responsibilities, as well as the personal commitment and vision each would bring to the position,” Frank said. “All of these candidates have a passion for UNM and strong academic credentials.”
The Daily Lobo compiled candidate profiles for each of the five student regent finalists.
Alejandro Mendiaz-Rivera was the first in his family to get a college education. After completing an undergraduate double major in Latin American studies and Spanish, he is completing his master’s degree in public administration. He has been at UNM for six years.
Mendiaz-Rivera said he started to get involved with University affairs during his first year at UNM. Since then, he has been a New Student Orientation leader and chair of the Peer Mentoring Club.
The New Mexico Legislative Lottery Success Scholarship’s funds are projected to run dry by fiscal year 2014, which Mendiaz-Rivera said is the most pressing issue the University faces.
“Our students receive a lot of funding from the Lottery Scholarship,” he said. “If I was appointed regent, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that I would suggest my own personal solution … but I would listen to solutions that students have to offer.”
Mendiaz-Rivera said his main priority is to improve communication with students and to represent the campus community more accurately to the Board of Regents.
“My priority is to represent the student body and to represent the state as best as possible,” he said. “I believe that that should be the goal of the Board of Regents as a whole.”
After he finishes his master’s degree, Mendiaz-Rivera plans to work on a doctorate in higher education. But he said he ultimately plans to return to UNM and be an administrator to help improve the University.
“My passion is truly for education,” he said. “I love education and I love seeing students succeed.”
Second-year UNM School of Law student Kurtis Donisthorpe said the biggest problem at the University is the low student retention and graduation rates.
Donisthorpe, who obtained his bachelor’s degree in government from New Mexico State University, said students often drop out after completing only one year of college because of the rising costs of higher education in the state.
“Many students come to UNM for a year or two to drop out because of financial reasons,” he said. “That’s really a detriment to students and to most of our society.”
Donisthorpe said the University should implement more academic mentorship programs to help encourage students to stay in school.
He said mentorship programs will help students “be more eligible to continue on to the next level” of education.
Donisthorpe said that if selected, he will fight against the tuition tax credit, which is a legislative tax on student tuition, in the upcoming 60-day legislative session that begins in January.
“What I’d like to see is cooperation between University officials and legislators for an equitable, fair way of reducing the tuition tax credit,” he said.
After obtaining his law degree, Donisthorpe said he will start working on a master’s degree in business. He said he wants to work for an oil and gas law firm.
Donisthorpe said the University should work more closely with the student regent to solve campus problems, and said that if appointed, that’s exactly what he would do.
“We need to have a student regent with leadership abilities, experience and capability to work with the University to come up with solutions,” he said.
Frankie Gonzales is a junior studying business with a concentration in finance and said that when he was in high school, he had a relatively negative opinion of the University. But he changed his mind during his freshman year because of his involvement in the Living and Learning Communities program.
“I really came to love this University a lot, and I’m really glad that I ended up coming to UNM,” he said. “Some of them (his friends) started doing things in ASUNM, so I joined Emerging Lobo Leaders program and now I’m the director of the Emerging Lobo Leaders program. It really jump-started my experience.”
Gonzales, who is a member of Sigma Chi fraternity, said he’s a strong candidate for the student regent position because of his academic standing and his involvement and understanding of the University. He said he follows administrative endeavors, such as UNM President Robert Frank’s 120-day listening campaign, to ensure he understands all aspects of the University from both students’ and administrators’ points of view.
“I feel that I work for ASUNM right now and I work with a lot of freshmen and I think I have a really good perspective on what students would like or students think is important to the University,” he said. “But I also understand that there’s a difference between sometimes what students think is important but the administration may see something different. So I think the fact that I’m that understanding makes me a qualified candidate.”
Gonzales said that if selected as student regent, he would like to see improvements made in advisement practices to ensure students stay on the right track in terms of graduation, as well as improve students’ involvement on campus to improve graduation and retention rates.
“I think there’s a difference between a student who goes to class and goes home versus being a student who comes to UNM as a Lobo and is involved in the University,” he said. “What I’d like to see is students just getting involved around campus, becoming part of the culture would bring a better success rate and brings students to a new level in their education.”
Heidi Overton, who is a second-year medical student and medical doctorate candidate at UNM, has been on scholarship at the University since she was a freshman in the fall 2007. Overton received the Regents Scholarship and is enrolled in the BA/MD program at UNM, both of which paid for her tuition.
Overton said that because the state of New Mexico and the University have provided her with access to education, the student regent position would be a way for her to give back to the community.
“I’ll come out of UNM with eight years of education, a bachelor’s and an MD degree with full scholarship all the way through,” she said. “I’ve received the best that UNM has to offer … and I think that the student regent position is a great way to give back to UNM and the state for what they’ve given to me.”
Overton said her experiences at the University, including serving as a member on the Student Fee Review Board, as a senator in the ASUNM Senate, tutoring at CAPS and playing on the rugby team, have allowed her to have a well-rounded understanding of the University.
“I’ve had the privilege to see a lot of different sides of UNM and to really get to know UNM and what students face and what staff face and what faculty face and just I’ve really enjoyed my time here,” she said. “I think all of that combined makes me someone who’s willing to learn more about UNM and how it affects the state.”
She said that if selected as student regent, she wants to act as a liaison between the University and the Health Sciences Center to ensure that the University is providing the state with the best health care possible.
“I’m passionate about medicine and about health care delivery and I want to see us give as quality health care as we can to New Mexicans,” she said. “I want to be a doctor finally. I want to get into a good residency program, but I just want to be a doctor.”
Athanasios Manole, who is a third-year medical student and medical doctorate candidate, said his involvement in the University since he began undergraduate degree in fall 2005 has helped him understand all that the University has to offer.
Manole said he has been involved with the University since he began attending UNM, including being in the Honors program, as vice elections chair and elections chair for ASUNM, as a member of the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) and as a member of the Student Health Leadership Council. He said he hopes that if selected as student regent, he can help students get involved with the University and help them succeed through their education.
“I think I have a really deep tie to UNM. UNM’s really been so, so good to me. All of the opportunities I had at UNM really shaped me into the person I am today,” he said. “I think that all students can make the best of their education at UNM given that UNM provides them with the resources, so I want to continue to see students succeed at UNM.”
Manole said he’s also taught at the University, which helps him understand the importance of respecting staff and faculty member input. He said his involvement in research on topics such as biophysics and chemistry has taught him the value of a well-rounded education that he would like more students to have.
“I worked a lot with faculty, so I think it’s important to maintain the input of our faculty as well as our students for how we go about our studies at UNM,” he said. “Research is a great way to augment your studies for any type of student because we research in all types of fields.”
Manole said he mentors students, including at-risk youth, who are interested in a career in the health sciences and that he is involved in Advancement of Minorities in Medicines, which aims to help minority students advance in medicine and health care fields. He said that after he graduates, he wants to practice medicine but still be involved in health care policy.
“We’re a diverse population here in New Mexico and research has shown that the best providers are the ones who have the same backgrounds as their patients and they can convey a certain message to their constituents or their patients or their families,” he said. “So I’m a firm believer in that. That’s something I’m really passionate about.”