SANTA FE — Deviating from the tradition of gifting lawmakers with salsa, pins or pens, select students from the University of New Mexico instead presented student research at the State Legislature appreciation dinner hosted by the UNM Alumni Association on Monday.
Six undergraduate and four graduate students attended the event in Downtown Santa Fe at the La Fonda Hotel. Accompanied by live smooth jazz, they explained their research to state lawmakers in an effort to promote funding for higher education.
The Associated Students of UNM and the Graduate and Professional Student Association selected all of the students, who are primarily studying in science and technology fields.
Studies varied across disciplines, including T. rex skull science, fruit fly muscle growth and the origin of knowledge in society.
“Instead of spending our money on gifts, we brought students up to the legislature,” said Alexandria Moore, ASUNM assistant director of Governmental Affairs. “We should continue the opportunity for legislators to see what the University of New Mexico offers, and show a return investment in higher education.”
Sandra LeNguyen, an athletic training student, compared tackling strategies in football and rugby, advising coaches on which option was safest. Veronica Hutchison, a double major in biology and psychology — and the only sophomore — explored attitudes of contraception and family planning in diverse teen populations.
Two undergraduates were pre-med students. The remaining three students worked under Dr. Richard Cripps in the Biology Department, studying different aspects of muscle development.
Hallie Brown, a senior double majoring in international studies and sociology, discussed her two-year long project: “The Illiterate 'Other': Christianity, Coloniality and Sociology and Knowledge.” Her studies focused on primers and other methods of teaching and examining colonial ideas of what people consider knowledge to be.
Brown was the only liberal arts undergrad selected to present. Brown said there is a consistent underappreciation and invalidation of humanities research at the University.
“I’m giving real brain food here,” Brown said. “All of these STEM projects, and I’m the only one. This is exactly a representation right here of what UNM prioritizes.”
Emily Czajkowski, a biology major, said UNM should foster more unique opportunities like hers, working under Cripps on adult muscle development, as it gave her an advantage in grad school applications.
“UNM is a great school,” Czajkowski said. “Many of my friends at other universities are surprised by the opportunities at UNM. I was able to work in the lab as a freshman, which gave me a real step up.”
The top five employers in New Mexico relate to scientific, engineering, research or the medical field. Los Alamos National Labs, with over 11,000 employees, is one of the largest federal basic research labs in the United States.
Sandia National Labs works closely with the United States Air Force at the Kirtland base in Albuquerque, developing and testing technology for the Department of Energy, employing more than 8,700 people.
ASUNM Governmental Affairs brought roughly 40 students to the Roundhouse Monday morning to discuss pertinent bills with lawmakers relating to the Lottery Scholarship and appropriations for funding for the University.
New Mexico is no stranger to public education funding crises.
In April of 2017, two-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, vetoed a $6.1 billion spending bill, slashing all higher education funding. The move garnered national attention, and the New Mexico Legislature challenged the veto in the New Mexico Supreme Court.
In May, the governor reinstated funding, but rejected Democratic-Legislature proposals for tax increases. The legislation borrowed $71 million from severance tax bonds and suspended public works projects to fund state colleges and universities.
Jonathan Cordova, a biochemistry major, worked in labs at the University. He expressed concern that the state’s failure to invest in education leads to people leaving the state for better opportunities.
“If New Mexico creates education opportunities, it’ll slow the ‘brain drain,’” Cordova said. “People want to stay, it’s their state, it’s their home, it’s where their heart is.”
Danielle Prokop is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ProkopDani.