Kimberly Lucero juggled a full-time job, full-time parenting and being a full-time student to earn her degree
ESPAÑOLA, NM — Northern New Mexico College (NNMC) has more than its share of non-traditional students pursuing certificates and degrees. These are often older students with family responsibilities who are working to support themselves and their children. We admire their perseverance and almost superhuman ability to juggle competing responsibilities and earn their degree.
Kimberly Lucero is one such graduate. Lucero earned her Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Studies with an emphasis in Psychology in December 2020. She completed her degree in two years by attending full time (including summers) while working full time for Las Cumbres Community Services and raising three children. After a two-year delay due to COVID-19, she walked the stage during Northern’s Commencement 2020, 2021 and 2022 in May.
After earning a High School Equivalency degree from Northern 10 years ago, Lucero took a break from education to focus on her family. She and her husband, Eddie Lucero, have a 15-year-old daughter, 13-year-old and six-year-old sons and a baby girl born in June. Lucero’s work in the social services field motivated her to pursue a degree.
Lucero’s career began as an operations manager in a domestic violence shelter, which led to working with homeless shelters and substance abuse services. She joined Las Cumbres 10 years ago as a community-based prevention, intervention and reunification program manager, where she works with families to prevent child abuse and neglect.
“I think having those one-on-one conversations with families, seeing what their struggles were and being able to support them through some of those things was when I really found my passion for working with families,” Lucero said. “I was really intrigued and interested, and I wanted to learn more and explore more. I pushed myself to learn more about the cycle of violence, generational trauma and all those things, until it was like, I have to go to school so I can really wrap my head around all of this.”
Lucero used a variety of methods to meet the conflicting demands of work, school and family life. She and her husband share child-rearing responsibilities, with Kimberly working days and Eddie working nights. She maintained a full-time schedule – a requirement for some of the scholarships she applied for – through meticulous planning: designating which evenings she will work on certain assignments and which days will be dedicated to family time or down time.
Since social work can be emotionally demanding, Lucero developed methods of self-care, in part through guidance from a self-care class offered at NNMC. In addition to visiting the gym, going for walks, working in her garden and baking, she has developed a support system in the social work field that includes former instructors and leaders of social service organizations.
“In the social work field, it’s important you connect to someone who also knows the work and they’re able to support you through different situations that may arise,” Lucero said.
Lucero’s commitment has been an inspiration to her daughter, who talks about going to college and what she would like to pursue.
“She grew up in the social work field. I used to take her to work with me,” Lucero said. “It’s really interesting for her, and she’s connected socially to her own peers because of that. She’s able to communicate and be supportive to others at a higher level. She’s a support system to others because that’s the kind of thing that she grew up seeing.”
After graduating from NNMC, Lucero took one semester off before starting the next leg of her educational journey: pursuing a master’s degree in social work. Her first two semesters were at the University of New Mexico, but the long commute to Albuquerque prompted her to apply to New Mexico Highlands University’s online program, which she started this semester. She is currently exploring options for her emphasis, which range from grief therapy to supporting victims of human trafficking. She believes that successful work with families requires a variety of skills.
“If I was only connected to domestic violence or to substance use or to grieving services, how would I be able to support people who are going through many different things? I’ve found that families need more than just one type of support,” Lucero said. “The families I work with may be grieving, they may have substance abuse, maybe they have homelessness circumstances. The only way to be able to support them through the many needs that they have is to be open to learning more and being able to explore more outside of my school.” Lucero plans to volunteer for organizations where she can learn some of those skills.
Lucero will complete her master’s degree in year and a half, then she plans to pursue her PhD. She hopes to stay with Las Cumbres until she completes her doctorate, and maybe beyond. “It’s such a good agency I might end up staying with them forever,” Lucero said.
In the meantime, Lucero’s passion for her life work continues to grow.
“When you’re in social work, you just start to learn people a lot better and have a greater appreciation for people,” Lucero said. “I wanted to learn, how could I be more supportive to my community? We see our community suffering at times, and everybody says, we have to make a change and what do we do? Being in social work really helped me to be able to support my community.”