Visits with New Mexico legislators and officials kick off a new Student Leadership initiative
In an effort to empower students for civic engagement and support them as leaders in the community, Northern New Mexico College (NNMC) President Hector Balderas has launched a new Student Leadership Program, which he initiated Friday, February 3, 2023, by leading a group of young leaders to the New Mexico State Legislature. NNMC Board of Regents Vice-President Erica Velarde, PE, joined the president in introducing students to government leaders and the workings of the legislature.
“I want to elevate leadership opportunities for the student senate and all students. This was the first step, for me to bring them here and expose them to decision makers,” Balderas said. “I already consider them leaders. I want to expose them to opportunities in our community and introduce them to government leaders, corporate leaders and nonprofit leaders.
The inaugural group included members of the Associated Students of Northern New Mexico College (ASNNMC, or Student Senate). ASNNMC President Dolores Gurulé, Vice President Khiana Seaboy, Treasurer Ram Khalsa and Reporter Deandra Romero were joined by Natalia Tealer and Cristian Olivas, two students aspiring to join the ASNNMC next year.
The visit fell on American Indian Day. Students were able to hear Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren and Mark Mitchell, Chairman of the All Pueblo Council of Governors, address a Joint Session of the legislature.
One of the highlights was meeting House Speaker Javier Martínez (D–District 11). Martínez was one of several legislators and officials who promised to visit Northern in upcoming months. Like many of the leaders they met, Martínez stressed how much he loves this work.
“Every time I walk in this building, I’m like, man, how did I get so lucky? It’s really our village, a collective village that comes together to support each and every one of us, and your president is part of that village,” Martínez said. “I’m just tremendously proud that President Balderas is where he’s at right now and I know we’re going to work together in the coming years to help bring investments and different ideas to your college. And whether you’re students, staff or faculty, all of you are going to be a big part of that.”
Students met Representative Joseph Sanchez (D–District 40) and Senator Leo Jaramillo (D–District 5). Representative Susan Herrera (D–District 41) was tied up in committee but conveyed to Balderas that she would commit $100,000 of her discretionary funds to Northern. Jaramillo also promised financial support. Several government officials, including New Mexico Higher Education Department Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez and State Treasurer Laura Montoya, met with the group as well.
Throughout the trip, Regent Velarde explained the legislative process, drawing on her experience as former legislative liaison for the Department of Transportation.
“One of the best parts of being a regent is being able to engage with students on a real level, and being able to share stories and support one another,” Velarde said.
Student Senate Treasurer Ram Khalsa asked James Kenney, Cabinet Secretary of the Environment Department, whether his department had student internships.
“Internships in general are on my mind because I’m studying business and project management. But because I’m on the student senate and I’m also student ambassador, I like to get that kind of information so I can pass it on to other students.
Kenny responded enthusiastically, encouraging the students to apply for state internships.
“Anything you’re studying, not only my department but other departments will be able to hire you and get you experience,” Kenney said. “We need diversity in order to have good outcomes in our department. if you don’t have diversity, then you don’t have true representation. So we’d be happy to have any or all of you come to work with us.”
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham hoped to meet with the students but was in conference with representatives of the Navajo Nation. Balderas plans to arrange a meeting with the governor after the legislative session ends.
An unexpected bonus was meeting Kewa artist Ricardo Caté, best known for his daily cartoon “Without Reservations” for The Santa Fe New Mexican. Caté spent 10 minutes regaling the students with his own unique wit.
For many of the students, this was their first visit to the legislature. Each one took something different from the experience.
Senate President Gurulé was impressed by the long hours the legislators put in.
“Not that I didn’t respect the senators and representatives before, but I have a lot more respect for the work they do, because I realized how hard it is to sit in one place all day long and listen to so many people,” Gurulé said. “At the same time, they were all so very welcoming to us. They all encouraged us to continue our education and not to give up, and that was encouraging to me.”
“This experience has been eye-opening and inspiring for me,” said ASNNMC Vice President Khiana Seaboy. “As a student who’s about to graduate with her bachelor’s, I’m reconsidering what I should go into for graduate school. This just reminds me that there’s a whole world out there, and opportunities, and ways that I can give back in either the littlest or the biggest ways someday.”
Natalia Tealer found the experience very enlightening. “I had no idea what goes down in legislative meetings. It’s also very intimidating and a lot to take in. But I think that what happens here is extremely important for the people, for the state and the environment and our history, and for children to come, and I would like to learn more about it.”
“I think this experience has been incredible and definitely eye-opening, especially since I am studying law and trying to get my law degree,” said Cristian Olivas. “I think this is a very good opportunity for me to see how lawmakers make and accept or decline some of these laws and also endeavor to bring forth their own bills to try to revolutionize the world.”
Balderas intends to organize more opportunities for student senators and other Northern students.
“I came from a small town, and my career has offered me opportunities to meet important decision-makers,” Balderas said. “One of the focuses for me as president is to expose our students to those leadership opportunities sooner, so they know that they should have the confidence that they belong and deserve.”