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NMSU President Couture visits university's Grants campus

GRANTS, N.M. - New Mexico State University's President Barbara Couture began her community conversations tour across the state at Grants on April 8. This was the first of a series of trips to NMSU campuses that will provide Couture the opportunity to network with campus faculty, staff and students, Cooperative Extension Service agents, and community members.

NMSU President Barbara Couture visits with Acoma Pueblo's First Lt. Gov. Mark Thompson during her visit to NMSU Grants Campus and the Acoma Pueblo on April 8. (NMSU Photo by Jane Moorman)

"I am looking forward to hearing their concerns, ambitions and plans," Couture said of the tour that this month will take her to Grants, Alamogordo and Carlsbad, as well as public conversations in Las Cruces. "Such valuable exchanges allow us to explore together our areas of excellence and our opportunities to build strength."

Couture's tour continued April 14 at the NMSU Alamogordo Campus. On Wednesday, April 28, she will visit NMSU Carlsbad Campus.

She is inviting the public to share their thoughts via a Web site at http://www.nmsu.edu/president/community-conversations.html,

"I want to hear from the people we serve - both the citizens in the communities and our employees," she said. "It's their turn to express their hopes and dreams for a better NMSU."

During the NMSU Grants Campus visit, Couture learned about Cooperative Extension Service programs for the Native American community of New Mexico, toured the longest inhabited community in the nation at Acoma Pueblo's Sky City and listened to the concerns of Grants area residents regarding the Grants Campus course offerings.

Cooperative Extension Service agents told Couture about their programs, which are teaching Native Americans how they can cook their traditional food in a healthier way in diabetic cooking classes, how traditional language and customs are being taught to Native American youth during 4-H projects, and how agricultural agents are helping livestock producers, such as sheep growers, get better prices for their animals' wool.

"I think Dr. Couture saw why we are so proud of the work Extension does in Native American communities as well as the areas that surround them," said Jeff Bader, Cooperative Extension Service Northern District director.

"The goal of the land-grant university is to bring education to the people and to have it connect to the everyday lives of our people. That's what you have shown me in everything you have told me - how connected you are to the people you serve," Couture told the Extension agents.

Among the day's activities was lunch at the Acoma Pueblo Haak'u Museum where Couture met tribal leaders, and current and former NMSU Grants students who are tribal members.

"We wanted President Couture to experience the resilience of the people of this region and hear of their desire for access to higher education opportunities, as well as experience the rural challenges facing their ability to gain access," said Felicia Casados, NMSU Grants president. "I think we succeeded. As I expected, it was as memorable an experience for her as it was for me when I first visited Acoma. I consider it one of the most magical places I have ever seen."

While touring Acoma Pueblo, First Lt. Gov. Mark Thompson told Couture the challenge he sees for his pueblo members is that they live in two cultures, the traditional ways and modern society.

"How do we take our value system and communicate it to the rest of the world out there and protect what we have," he said. "Knowledge is power. We want our people to do everything they can to learn as much as they can so our pueblo will thrive without losing what we have here - the way it is and has been."

Following a guided tour of Acoma Pueblo's Sky City, Couture returned to the NMSU Grants Campus and met with faculty, staff, students and community members during a reception where she spoke about her first three months as NMSU's 25th president.

She talked about issues caused by the state's tight budget, including the 4 percent overall budget cuts and 8 percent tuition increase. Despite these challenges she said she has pledged to maintain program quality.

Couture informed the Grants audience that she is working to create strong connections with the NMSU community college campuses by redesigning the organizational chart so community college presidents communicate directly to her.

"One of the first things we have done is establish a monthly meeting where the community college presidents and I meet to address issues affecting their students such as how we can do a better job of making sure that students who start with an associate's degree at a community college and want to continue in the NMSU system can do so either by transferring to Las Cruces or through a distance education program," she said.