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New Mexico State University

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Area students get behind-the-scenes look at NMSU

New Mexico State University's Las Cruces campus hosted a younger-than-usual group of students Dec. 3, as pupils from Vista Middle School spent the day touring the land of Aggies.



Omar Moreno, a technician at the NMSU Solid Waste and Recycling Center, gives Vista Middle School students a tour of the campus recycling facility (photo by Darren Phillips).

No, this wasn't some new attempt at early admissions; the kids were on campus to get a look at the day-to-day, behind-the-scenes workings of the university, with a little fun and science thrown in for good measure.

Four groups of Vista students hit NMSU's campus for tours of the central utility plant and recycling facility. Additionally, Laura Lomas-Tomlinson and Ligia Ford, from NMSU's Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Aeronautics Academy, taught students how to use global positioning systems via a campus scavenger hunt on campus, in order to teach the students how to use GPS technology. It was the third such field trip of the semester hosted by the university's Office of Facilities and Services.

Some physical education was in order as well, as Activity Center staff showed off the school's climbing wall and gave students instruction in climbing while giving them a shot to scale the wall.

"I was contacted by Josh Wisner, who teaches science at Vista, to arrange for the utility plant tours," explained Stephen Self, utilities maintenance manager at NMSU. "Josh worked at the central utility plant as a student employee while he was going to school here. We have always supported academia through the student employment program and have many success stories from past student employees?Josh happens to be one of them."

Wisner's colleague Michele Ramsey arranged the field trip to the Aggie Recycling Center because of a speech given by Art Lucero, recycling/solid waste supervisor at NMSU, during the university's Scientifically Connected Communities (SC2) Summer Institute. SC2 is dedicated to improving the scientific literacy of southern New Mexico students by providing professional development to fourth- through eighth-grade teachers that emphasizes critical thinking strategies and pedagogy to enhance scientific inquiry for all students.

"SC2 arranges, schedules and coordinates these field trips to support teachers by providing students with enriched learning experiences," said Terri Hansen, science field specialist with NMSU's College of Education. "We want the students to learn from all the great resources here at NMSU and be comfortable on campus, so that they can see themselves as students here too."

These campus tours, frequented by Las Cruces elementary and middle schools, serve the students - and the community - on many different levels. The kids get to experience a unique day outside of their normal classroom environment while gaining first-hand knowledge of what it takes to operate a large endeavor like a university on a day-to-day basis. The tours not only show what happens during a normal workday at the utility plant and recycling center, but also real application of mathematic and scientific principles.

"The kids are encouraged to ask questions on the tours, and our employees ask them questions as well," said Hansen, who joined one group of students at the recycling center. "Just seeing the volume of material that goes through the recycling center engages them and serves as an excellent accompaniment to what they're studying in the classroom. We also give the teachers lab sheets to be used in the classroom after the trip, so the students have an opportunity to show and apply what they've learned."

And yes, a campus visit is an effective recruiting tool, even for middle school students.

"Our intent and hope in doing the utility plant tours for these schools is that just maybe it will spark an interest in one of our academic programs, like engineering," Self said. "One day of our time is a small price to pay for gaining even one future student."

Over the long term, the tours hope to provide students with the knowledge to proactively improve their surroundings through conservation and recycling practices, as OFS employees guiding the tours remind them of the benefits of sustainability.

"Any interaction with the community is time well spent and a valuable investment for the university," Self said. "You can tell that they are just soaking it all in and will have a load of questions when they get back to class. The more time these kids spend on campus getting to know the atmosphere, the more comfortable they will be when they return, we hope, as students."