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NMSU's County College expanding to give New Mexico an EDGE

Due to popular demand, the County College program administered by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service is expanding.

Anne Lightsey, corporate trainer associated with New Mexico Ethics Alliance, teaches a class during New Mexico EDGE's County College, a program administered by New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. The mission of New Mexico EDGE, which stands for Education Designed to Generate Excellence, is to promote better government through education of elected officials and county and state agency employees. (NMSU photo)

"We are excited to brand our new umbrella organization 'New Mexico EDGE,' which stands for Education Designed to Generate Excellence," said Mary DeLorenzo, program director. "This will allow us to expand our training programs into other areas of the public sector such as municipal entities, public sector entities and various state agencies that have a need for specialized training."

New Mexico EDGE is currently facilitating the development of curriculum for the New Mexico Legislature-mandated ethics class for newly elected legislators.

"We have a curriculum committee comprised of representatives from many stakeholder organizations which has spent time pulling together various trainings offered by organizations such as the New Mexico Legislative Council, New Mexico Ethics Alliance and the New Mexico Public Institute of Law at the University of New Mexico," DeLorenzo said. "We are developing one core class that covers a general overview for our newly elected legislators. Currently, New Mexico EDGE has such a class in our certified public manager curriculum called 'Answering the Call to Public Service.' It covers ethics, conflict of interest, stewardship and other concepts that are so important for our government officials."

New Mexico EDGE is also involved in providing a program for newly elected county officials in partnership with the New Mexico Association of Counties. It will coordinate the new version of the Better Informed Public Officials Conference, which will be held in January.

"Previously, this training was conducted by NMAC in December of an election year," DeLorenzo said. "The Association of Counties has asked EDGE to deliver classes from the certified public manager program and the County College program that would benefit newly elected county officials prior to that organization's Midwinter Legislative Conference Jan. 17-20."

Other entities and organizations have expressed interest in working with New Mexico EDGE to develop training programs. They include the New Mexico Municipal League, Bernalillo County Parks and Recreation Department and detention staff and New Mexico dam and levee operators.

"Groups such as the parks and recreation and county detention find their employees entering the workforce with limited training in issues they are faced with on the job. Both would like to provide training that would help the individuals perform their current job, and allow employees to obtain knowledge that will help them advance within the organization," DeLorenzo said.

With the purpose of encouraging better government through education, County College began in 2002 as a dream of the late Sam Montoya, the executive director of the New Mexico Association of Counties, who asked NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences' Cooperative Extension Service to develop an educational program for New Mexico's county officials and employees.

In 2008, the NMSU Department of Government became a regular partner in County College and introduced the nationally accredited certified public manager program. Curriculum committees to fully develop core programs and some affiliate-specific educational programs were established. New Mexico EDGE staff is currently working with affiliates of the New Mexico Association of Counties to develop affiliate-specific curricula.

To date, specific curriculum for each of following offices and groups has been developed: county commissioners, county clerks, treasurers, public assessment officers, county detention staff, county GIS offices and Cooperative Extension Service county personnel.

Since 2003, when classes were first offered, 5,000 class units have been delivered, with nearly 2,000 in 2010 alone. Participants in County College courses receive NMSU Continuing Education Units for each three-hour class unit.

To date, 75 participants have completed the 18 classes required to reach the first level of the certificate program, earning certified public official designation in such fields as knowing your government, management and human resources.

The shift to a new name for the County College program was based on the request of other government entities to have similar training for their elected officials and employees. The original title seemed to limit the program to county personnel.

To address the expansion of programs, the New Mexico Public Service Education Center was created in 2008, following the guidelines of the National Certified Public Manager Consortium.

"It was hard to communicate this name for our umbrella organization, and it was limiting in the potential audience we could serve, so we went through a series of branding discussions and developed New Mexico EDGE," DeLorenzo said.

With New Mexico EDGE, DeLorenzo is confident that the opportunity to help other public sector entities expand workforce training programs is huge.