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Elizabeth Solis, graduate student in the UNM biology department, poses in front of Marron Hall. 

Graduate student, worker finds community in Union

Elizabeth Solis is a graduate worker at the University of New Mexico pursuing a master’s degree in biology who recently became more involved in the unionization efforts by graduate workers at the University after experiencing discrimination from those in her department. Through the United Graduate Workers at UNM, Solis found support, community and an avenue for change.

“Since I started becoming active (in the Union), I then just met a bunch of people who I could relate to. We all share the same goals. We have the same frustrations because of how we're treated but also at the end it's just like, we support each other. And I think that is really the main thing for me,” Solis said.

Supporting others and sharing knowledge is something that has always influenced Solis:  she initially became interested in the biology field based on how much she loved to share that knowledge with others.

“I had a genuine passion for biology, but more specifically because I was always sharing things I was fascinated by. I realized that is what I enjoy doing. I really enjoy teaching other people and fascinating them,” Solis said.

This passion for helping her community also has influenced her decision in supporting first generation minority students as they enter academia.

“More specifically, though, to inspire and encourage first gen minorities because I am a first gen minority ... I want to help those because it's true that first gens take a longer time to finish school. So if I can shorten that length for them, by giving — helping them in any way I can — that would be rewarding for me,” Solis said.

Solis chose a master’s in biology because of the poor conditions and treatment she faced from advisors at the University. Along these lines, Solis wants other graduate workers to remember their worth and to continue to push for better working conditions.

“It's just like, remember your worth and recognize that ... because even some of the faculty don't believe that is your worth, you know? So, we all deserve what we want, fair contract, protection against discrimination and an actual living wage,” Solis said. 

Outside of research, teaching and union organization, Solis says that she always makes time to practice yoga, utilizing it as an opportunity to clear her mind.

“At the end of the class, we meditate so it's like, I go in … feeling anxious and overwhelmed from whatever is happening that week from academia. But then I come to this place where it kind of leaves me just feeling back in a stable mindset,” Solis said.

Others around her attest to her leadership qualities and are inspired by her role in supporting the community.

“She just becoming such an advocate for all the students … There's just so much that she's doing right now, but the way she is very open … about what she would like to see change and also just trying to get the word out there as grad students. We have a lot of our own rights. I'm really impressed with her and the leadership role that she's kind of taking on,” A friend of Solis said who chose to remain anonymous.

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Solis said that being a steward in the Union has given her skills she will take with her into future jobs and leadership positions.

“I’m still learning from the Union, but so far what I’ve learned these past few months are the written language that is used for bargaining. I’m learning different strategic approaches and the reasoning behind each approach, and how to build on worker engagements,” Solis said.

Followinggraduation, Solis plans to return to California in hopes of continuing to work in the biology field. Solis had one final piece to offer up to those perhaps questioning their current position.

“You don't need to be miserable to pursue something that you think is deserving,” Solis said.

Maddie Pukite is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. They can be contacted at or on Twitter @maddogpukite

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