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Graduate School may hold key to career growth

Years of work as a psychiatric nurse convinced Lucy Montes-Sandoval to return to New Mexico State University for a doctoral degree. Although as an advanced practice nurse she is eligible to prescribe drugs, she believes a doctorate will take her "to the next plateau" in her career.

Graduate student Bonavita Quinto hopes her career path will lead her to the top job as a community college administrator. Although the odds are great -- only 14 in the nation are Hispanic women -- Quinto is laying the foundation.

Montes-Sandoval and Quinto are among increasing numbers of women and minority students who see graduate school as leading to more successful careers, says NMSU Graduate School Dean Tim Pettibone. Women, in fact, make up 53 percent of the 2,378 graduate students at NMSU, while total minorities account for 25 percent, and Hispanics make up 21 percent.

Graduate school enrollments in some fields of study, such as engineering, have declined in recent years because the job market has been so strong, Pettibone said. At the same time, enrollments in education and health and social services have steadily increased over the past five years. Graduate students seeking degrees in those fields total nearly 36 percent of all graduate enrollment at NMSU, reflecting the market demand for those advanced degrees.

Montes-Sandoval first came to NMSU in 1979 to become a nurse. Today, she has not one but three degrees in nursing from NMSU. Her years of nursing experience include work in hospitals, nursing homes and community agencies. She's now back in graduate school pursuing a Ph.D. in counseling and educational psychology and teaching a section in clinical psychiatric nursing.

The sum of her education fits snugly within a holistic approach to health care. "The blend of my psychology training and my nursing background will help me assess a patient's physical and mental condition and decide which therapies are appropriate," she says.

For Montes-Sandoval, expanding her career horizons doesn't mean moving from Las Cruces. "There is so much here to explore. I have just touched the surface in my own backyard."

Bonavita Quinto

Quinto taught for seven years at a California community college. She saw the student population shift from one of primarily vocational students to one with significant numbers of immigrants. In the Spanish classes she taught on grammar and Hispanic literature, she saw firsthand the need for curriculum adjustments.

"I could only do so much as an instructor, but as an administrator, I knew I could propose changes," she says.

In 1997, through a national search, Quinto and five other students were selected by NMSU to participate in the Hispanic Border Leadership Institute. The institute's doctoral program in educational administration is designed to train the future leaders of public schools and community colleges, particularly in the southwest border region.

The added benefit of the program, says Quinto, is the bond that has been created among students and professors. "Now I have friends and peers to depend upon in the future," she says.

Besides network building and career development, graduate degrees can command higher salaries. Pettibone is the first to admit the dollar value of a graduate education, but he believes its real worth is training students to be society's problem solvers. "We are in the business of discovery," he says. Through research, students will use their "discoveries" to solve the problems of the future.