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Retiring NMSU grad school dean plans to continue serving community

It started when she was just a young girl: A desire to serve others, to help them be happy and healthy, has always driven Linda Lacey. She made improving students' quality of life a priority during her 11-year tenure as dean of New Mexico State University's graduate school.

Linda Lacey poses in front of her tent in the Gila Wilderness with her dog, Blessing.
Retiring New Mexico State University Graduate School Dean Linda Lacey is looking forward to spending more time enjoying nature and visiting with family. Shown here with her dog, Blessing, on a recent camping trip in the Gila Wilderness, Lacey said she enjoys kayaking and hiking. Lacey retires July 1 after 11 years as dean of NMSU's graduate school. (Submitted photo)

Looking back at her time at NMSU, Lacey, who will retire at the end of this June, said it wasn't the boost in applicants to the graduate school that she was most proud of - though she did put plenty of time and energy in to actively recruiting new and talented students. As a result, graduate enrollment rose from 2,450 in 2002, when Lacey joined NMSU, to a peak of 3,800 in 2008.

But it was her role as an advocate for the graduate students that was most important to her. In 2005, she succeeded in obtaining health insurance for graduate assistants. She also worked to increase the funding for fellowships, conference travel and merit-based awards. The opportunity to take part in conferences and workshops as part of graduate students' professional development is essential, and boosts the university, too, Lacey said.

"They are our ambassadors," she said. "They're helping demonstrate that NMSU is a research institution."

Desa Daniel first met Lacey when she transferred to NMSU as an undergraduate in 2008. Lacey helped her navigate through NMSU, encouraging her to continue her education. Daniel, who is the graduate director of a master doctoral program and will be a graduate assistant in the fall, credits Lacey's support and mentorship - as a student, a woman and a minority - with a big part of her success.

"She will be one of the first people I call when I am accepted into a doctoral program," Daniel said. "Simply, no one knows the fight, effort or hardship it takes to succeed in an academic setting like Dr. Lacey, and her willingness to mentor and guide students far outreaches the efforts of any other administrator on campus."

Loui Reyes, who is preparing to take over as interim dean of the graduate school on July 1, said he admires Lacey's professionalism and dedication to student success.

"This woman has really thought about and prepared for her departure, from an administrative perspective," he said. "That speaks to her care and concern for her students - she's not going to leave those students with just anyone."

The graduate school will hold "Tea and Coffee with the Deans" event on Monday, June 24, and Tuesday, June 25, at Corbett Center Room 248 as an opportunity to wish Lacey well and get to know Reyes. They'll be available 8:30 to 10 a.m. Monday or 2 to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Lacey is looking forward to spending more time with her family in California, Alaska and Maryland. She plans to stay in Las Cruces for now, enjoying the weather and beautiful wilderness areas. An avid outdoor enthusiast, Lacey regularly takes camping and hiking trips and enjoys kayaking.

"When you're in nature, I think nature calms you," she said. "When I'm in the wilderness, I do some meditative walking. In a kayak, coming down the Rio Grande, you see the beauty of New Mexico that you don't get to see anywhere else."

It won't be all relaxation by the campfire for Lacey once her duties to NMSU end this month. She plans to continue pursuing her interest in pranic healing, a type of energy healing that emphasizes using a person's life-force to accelerate the body's ability to repair itself. Lacey described it as a complement to modern medicine and acknowledged that not everyone accepts it - but she's seen how meditation and energy healing can help physical and emotional well-being. She's working to become a certified practitioner.

Lacey has plans to establish free community clinics in the El Paso area for energy healing and meditation, and she's especially focused on providing services and support to help reduce stress in soldiers at Fort Bliss and elsewhere who are returning from combat.

Prior to joining NMSU in 2002, Lacey was the associate dean of the graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a professor of city and regional planning and a research fellow of the Carolina Population Center at UNC Chapel Hill.

In her studies, Lacey graduated with top honors, and she tried to impress upon her students the value of working hard to earn top grades. She holds a bachelor's degree in social science from the University of California at Berkeley, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa, and a master's degree and doctorate in city and regional planning from Cornell University, where she graduated from the Ph.D. program Phi Kappa Phi.

For more information on the "Tea and Coffee with the Deans" event, contact Rita Beckman at ribeckma@ad.nmsu.edu.