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Love of learning, NMSU degrees bring mother and daughters closer

New Mexico State University has helped to shape the lives of two generations of women in one New Mexico family while the third generation of Aggie women is on the way. It all started with a mother's love of learning.


A woman sits at a desk, doing paperwork. Hospital beds are in the background behind her.
Martha Henry, NMSU nursing student, works in a lab in the Health and Social Services building on the NMSU Las Cruces campus. (NMSU photo by Emily C. Kelley)
Five people pose for a group photo.
Two of Karen Henry's daughters have attended NMSU along with their mother. Pictured are David Shiner, Martha Henry, Heather Patton, Katie Ryan and Christopher Henry, at Heather's wedding. (Courtesy photo)
A mother and her three daughters pose for a group photo.
From left: Heather Patton, Martha Henry, Katie Ryan and Karen Henry pose for a photo. Karen and Katie have earned bachelor's degrees at NMSU and Martha is currently majoring in nursing at NMSU. (Courtesy photo)

"Learning was something that I have always had in common with my children through homeschooling," said Karen Henry, whose family used to operate a small engine repair dealership in Grants, N.M. "Going to college together was just an extension of that except I wasn't the teacher and didn't have all of the answers. We could just learn together."

When they closed their business in 2003, Henry decided that it was time to go back to school. Her daughter, Katie Ryan, who is now married and expecting twin girls in June, was ready to take dual-enrollment courses at age 15, so they started school together.

"I thoroughly enjoyed it and since we were going to close our business, I decided that going to college was a good idea," Henry said. "Katie and I graduated together with our associate degrees in 2005. I got mine in computer technology and she got hers in web design."

Henry and daughter Katie earned their associates degrees at NMSU's Grants campus. Henry earned her bachelor's degree in information and communication technology at NMSU in Las Cruces in 2007 and went on to earn a master's degree at another university. She is now working back at NMSU Grants as an assistant professor and program manager.

Ryan received a bachelor's degree in business and communication information systems from NMSU in 2009. She now works as a server administrator for Los Alamos National Laboratory. Her work at Los Alamos is different than what she did at NMSU, but she says her experience at the university taught her the most important lesson -- "learning how to learn."

"I think that the people at NMSU prepared me for my career," Ryan said. "I had really great instructors in the College of Business who helped me prepare for anything."

Henry's youngest daughter Martha is currently a student at NMSU studying nursing and expects to graduate in December 2014. But it took her a while to settle on nursing as her major. Martha Henry started her college career at NMSU-Grants then transferred to Dona Ana Community College to study fire science.

"About a year into the fire science program, I thought 'I don't really want to do this,' so I worked for a couple of years, then decided to go into nursing," Martha said.

Martha worked as an occasional EMT for the NMSU Fire Department for four years and developed a passion for emergency medicine, but it was her work at Sierra Vista Hospital that sparked her interest in nursing.

"In nursing, you can do so much more," Martha said. "I want to be a flight nurse for a little while, too, but my mom isn't very excited about it."

Martha spent this semester practicing giving medications, taking vital signs and monitoring blood sugar levels as well as learning other basic nursing skills to help patients. As she wrapped up her last day of clinical practice, She reflected on mother and sister's choices to go into information systems, very different from her own desire to pursue a nursing career.

"Computers and I have a love-hate relationship," Martha said of her mother's and sister's work. "You work with computers - cool. I work with people."

Upon graduation in 2014, Martha plans to work in Las Cruces for a while then possibly work in a military hospital, a nod to her two brothers' military service.

Henry has three other children - another daughter and two sons: David Shiner is in the U.S. Air Force currently stationed in Alaska and is pursuing a bachelor's degree in computer science; Heather Patton lives in San Antonio, manages a restaurant and is pursuing a bachelor's degree; and Christopher Henry is in the U.S. Army and currently deployed to Afghanistan.

Karen Henry is already looking forward to the day her soon-to-be-born twin granddaughters will become the third generation of women in her family to attend NMSU.

"NMSU is an excellent environment to learn and grow in at any age. Being Aggies is just another thing we will have in common."