Tomás Salazar
2017 Distinguished Alumnus

Tomás Salazar, the first Hispanic from New Mexico to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of New Mexico, is a lifelong education leader and former dean of Highlands’ College of Arts and Sciences.

Salazar is also a New Mexico legislator, serving with distinction since 2013 in the House of Representatives for District 70, which includes portions of San Miguel, Santa Fe and Torrance Counties.

He serves on the House Education and House Appropriations and Finance Committees and chairs the Higher Education Subcommittee.

“As a legislator, I’m dealing with very serious issues,” Salazar said. “My challenge is to have the wisdom to make decisions that will help New Mexicans.”

Salazar earned mathematics degrees from Highlands, 1965, the University of Montana, 1969, and his Ph.D. from UNM, 1976.

“What I find so appealing about mathematics is that, as a discipline, it is very logical and structured, yet it allows for creative, critical thinking,” Salazar said.

The native of Chapelle, a village in central San Miguel County, started his education in a one-room school. Salazar is the first in his family to complete college.

“My Highlands professors were excellent, taking a personal interest in my learning and preparing me for teaching and graduate school,” Salazar said.

Salazar began his career teaching secondary math and science in New Mexico. After completing his Ph.D., he joined the mathematics faculty at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, achieving tenure and promotion to associate professor.

“I greatly enjoyed every teaching assignment. The belief that you’re affecting the future as a teacher and mentor is very gratifying. My goal was to help students reach their potential,” Salazar said.

His dream of returning to Highlands came true in 1992, when Salazar was hired to direct the Science Education Resource Center and teach mathematics and computer science in the School of Education, achieving tenure and promotion to full professor.

“I’ve always been extremely concerned with the well-being of economically disadvantaged populations. I wanted to increase the number of minorities and rural students who successfully entered science and mathematics disciplines, which was the impetus in garnering a number of National Science Foundation and other grants aimed at improving K-12 math and science education” Salazar said.

Salazar served as the College of Arts and Sciences dean from 1996 until his retirement in 2003. He achieved the honor of Highlands professor emeritus.

“As dean, I had the opportunity to work with faculty across many disciplines in areas ranging from personnel matters to accreditation,” Salazar said.

After retiring, Salazar became a leader in organizations like the New Mexico Association of Educational Retirees, Habitat for Humanity, and AARP.

“After nine years volunteering, I decided I could make a greater impact by serving as a policymaker at the state level,” Salazar said. Voters returned him to a third term in 2016.

“Dr. Salazar’s motivation has always been to help others,” said Rebecca Baca, a former Highlands colleague who nominated Salazar for the homecoming award. “He constantly researches and seeks ways to assist others in need.”



Christopher Gutierrez
2017 Distinguished Young Alumnus

Christopher Gutierrez is the youngest superintendent in the history of the 1,400 student West Las Vegas School District in New Mexico.

Gutierrez, 37, earned his M.A. in educational leadership from Highlands in 2013 and a B.A. in general science for secondary teachers in 2005.

The West Las Vegas School Board voted unanimously in September 2016 to name Gutierrez superintendent after he first served as interim superintendent.

“Christopher is a perfect example of how education empowers you to serve your community,” said Ane Romero, a member of the distinguished alumni selection committee who was named a Highlands distinguished young alumna in 2011. “He’s a rising proactive leader in education administration who is doing a great job as superintendent. Christopher is also an inspirational role model for youth and others.”

Gutierrez said educators have the privilege of touching the future through their work with students.

“When I went into education, I wanted to pass on the knowledge I had learned to help students be successful,” Gutierrez said. “I feel that as a superintendent, I can do that at a higher level.”

Gutierrez said the biggest challenge in his first year as superintendent was the state budget cuts school districts throughout New Mexico faced.

“We figured out a way to retain all our employees and we kept every school door open,” Gutierrez said.

The Las Vegas, New Mexico native gained his first administrative experience as West Las Vegas Middle School principal from 2014 – 2016.

“Working at the middle school gave me the opportunity to prove myself as an administrator. After being a classroom teacher, I learned the other side of the school environment. I was fortunate to manage 24 great, hard working staff members,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez said he learned how to be a transformational leader during his master’s degree program in educational leadership at Highlands.

“My graduate coursework also prepared me to better understand education laws, how to build school budgets, and how to develop cohesiveness with teachers in the building. My professors were excellent,” Gutierrez said.

In 2017, Gutierrez initiated a coalition of education administrators and other leaders in Las Vegas with the goal of advancing local education opportunities for kindergarten through college students. He is also active in organizations such at the New Mexico Coalition of Educational Leaders, Regional Education Cooperative #4, Las Vegas Truancy Task Force, and San Miguel County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition.

Gutierrez began his education career in 2005 at West Las Vegas Family Partnership, where he was the only science teacher for seventh – 12th-graders and taught math to ninth – 12th– graders.

In 2008, he earned statewide recognition when his eighth-grade science students had the highest increase in test scores in the state on the New Mexico Standards Based Assessment.

“The biggest highlight for me at Family Partnership was our success with graduating students that were struggling in the education system,” Gutierrez said.

Every semester, Gutierrez takes education courses at Highlands, ranging from special education to teaching reading.

“As an education administrator, it’s important to continually advance my knowledge,” Gutierrez said.



Loretta Salazar
2017 Distinguished Retired Faculty

Loretta Salazar’s career as a leader in bilingual education spans 40 years. Her tenure with the Highlands School of Education was from 1992 – 2013, when she directed the Bilingual Education Program and Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) Program.

“Bilingual education is at the very heartbeat of our New Mexico children. This includes Spanish as well as native languages. It’s really important that we nourish this essential part of a child’s life,” Salazar said.

She said exposure to other languages and cultures develops tolerance, understanding and appreciation for other perspectives.

“Bilingual education also has other important impacts. New Mexico is poised to be a front-runner in producing bilingual and biliterate citizens who can contribute to the state’s economy,” said the Taos native whose first language was Spanish.

Salazar earned a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction in multicultural teacher education from the University of New Mexico, where she also completed her M.A. in Spanish.

Some leadership highlights include co-authoring Prueba, the New Mexico Spanish proficiency exam for bilingual teachers, and serving as president for the New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education.

Salazar began her education career as a high school Spanish and English Language Arts teacher.

“Teaching always offered me tremendous joy, satisfaction and fulfillment. I loved my students whether they were in high school or Highlands. They were young souls searching and wanting to learn, maturing right before my eyes. I felt so privileged to share those moments with them,” Salazar said.

Salazar, who achieved Highlands education professor emerita status, said her biggest accomplishment is seeing her students succeed.

She said among her best memories of Highlands was being part of faculty teams that took students on study abroad Spanish immersion trips to Granada, Spain, and Oaxaca and Veracruz, Mexico.

“These international experiences opened the world to our students, expanding their own living language beyond Las Vegas,” Salazar said.

Salazar presented at dozens of state, national and international education conferences. She co-authored textbooks such as Placement Package for Heritage Learners in 2004 and is co-authoring a chapter in the upcoming textbook, Standing on Their Shoulders: the History of Bilingual Education in New Mexico.  

Salazar has been named for various honors, including 2003 Bilingual Professor of the Year for the New Mexico Association for Bilingual Education. In 2014, NMABE recognized her with the Matías Chacón Award for statewide contributions to bilingual education.

“Dr. Salazar’s knowledge and experience in bilingual education is second to none in the state,”  said Patricia Jimenez-Latham, a senior associate with Highlands’ Center for Education and Study of Diverse Populations who nominated Salazar for the Highlands award. “She continually fights for what is right, reaching out to ensure otherwise silenced voices in our communities are heard.”

Since retiring, Salazar continues to be a strong voice for education with organizations like the Coalition for the Majority, which advocates for New Mexico’s linguistically and culturally diverse students.

“This advocacy is critical to the well-being of education in our state. We must always be vigilant about what our education officials are proposing,” Salazar said.




John Barlow Reid III
2017 Spirit Award

John Barlow Reid III, sports medicine director for Taos Orthopaedic Institute, earned the Spirit Award for his dedication to volunteering as the team physician for Highlands’ athletic teams for more than 13 years.

Reid provides sideline coverage for all the Cowboy home football games, evaluating and treating athlete’s injuries. Early Thursday mornings before he begins his Las Vegas clinic, Reid works with the sports trainers at Highlands, helping evaluate, treat and make recommendations for injured Cowgirl and Cowboy athletes.

Carol Linder, Highlands associate vice president of academic affairs, nominated Reid for the Spirit Award, calling him a dedicated community partner.

“Dr. Reid is one of our biggest supporters and has continued this support through many athletic directors and coaches,” Linder said. “He has boundless energy and enthusiasm, continuing his support with no thought of recognition or thanks.”

Linder said despite his busy schedule with practices in Taos, Las Vegas, Santa Fe and Los Alamos, Reid somehow carves out time to help Highlands athletes.

Reid, who is also the team physician for the U.S. Ski Team, said it’s a privilege to treat Highlands athletes.

“Anyone who goes into sports medicine wants to work with the most elite athletes, and the Highlands athletes are the most elite in Northern New Mexico,” Reid said. “I enjoy getting to know them as young adults pursuing their athletic and academic dreams.”

Reid said it’s rewarding – and fun – to watch athletes return to the field or court after an injury.

“When college athletes return to their sport, it helps restore their quality of life as well as their sense of identity and purpose. It’s also helps maintain their scholarships so they can achieve their degrees and academic goals. That’s what keeps getting me up early to help,” Reid said.

Reid, who is past chairman of the Department of Surgery at Holy Cross Hospital in Taos, also performs surgeries Highlands athletes need at Holy Cross or Alta Vista Regional Hospital in Las Vegas. The most common surgeries are knee and shoulder reconstructions.

“Most of the surgeries are minimally invasive using arthroscopy, surgery done using a scope and camera as opposed to open incisions. To treat fractures, we use open incisions,” Reid said.

Reid said sports played a key role in his life since he was a young football player and downhill skiing racer. He is a big believer in giving back to sports as a volunteer and donor.

“Through giving to the Highlands athletics program, I’m helping support the athlete’s needs and donating to their future,” Reid said.

Reid, still an avid skier and mountain biker, said he became interested in sports medicine when he was injured working on the ski patrol at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe, California.

He graduated cum laude from Oregon Health Sciences University as a doctor of medicine in 1998. He also completed an orthopaedic surgery residency at OHSU. Reid joined Taos Orthopaedic Institute in 2003, directing Sports Medicine Services since 2005.

Reid directs the institute’s Research Foundation and is widely published in medical journals like Arthroscopy and Journal of Biomechanics.



Darlene Chavez
2017 Distinguished Retired Staff

Darlene Chavez retired from Highlands in 2016 after 25 years of service in business-related management positions.

For the last 15 years of her Highlands’ tenure, Chavez was the development finance officer in the Advancement Office, which includes the Foundation and Alumni Offices. She managed the accounting, investments, budgeting, financing, student organization budgets, and foundation scholarships.

Previously, Chavez held positions such as accounts receivable manager and assistant manager, interim operations manager for financial aid, assistant vice president of auxiliary services, and coordinator of student housing.

“Darlene showed impressive dedication and perseverance moving forward professionally during her years as a manager with Highlands,” said Josephine Sena, a member of the distinguished alumni selection committee. “She also really stands out as someone who is passionate about education, completing her first degree at Highlands when her four children were young.”

In 2016, Highlands President Sam Minner named Chavez as the first recipient of the President’s Service Award.

Chavez said every job she’s had at Highlands involved working directly with students, helping them along their journey.

“I absolutely loved working with students. The most rewarding – and biggest highlight – of my Highlands’ career was seeing students blossom and advance professionally to become successful members of society,” said Chavez, a Las Vegas, New Mexico native.

She said that as a Highlands manager, she always encouraged her staff to continue their education.

“I wanted my staff to have the same kinds of life-changing opportunities I had through my Highlands education. My business degrees at Highlands prepared me well for every position I held at the university,” Chavez said.

Chavez earned her B.A. in business administration magna cum laude from Highlands and went on to complete an MBA with a concentration in management information systems. She said initially she didn’t think she was college material, but her sisters, both Highlands students, encouraged her. The trio are the first in their family to graduate from college.

“When my youngest child started kindergarten, I had the chance to pursue college. It was a struggle to balance my education, work study position, and family responsibilities. What made it possible as a nontraditional student were my amazing business professors who were incredibly supportive. My husband Ernest also supported my education aspirations every step of the way,” Chavez said.

She said one semester when she was an undergraduate all four of her children had chickenpox right before final exams. Ernest was working long hours and couldn’t stay home with the children.

“My professors gave me flexibility about when I could take my exams, allowing me to complete all my classes and not lose an entire semester,” Chavez said.

As a retiree, Chavez said she remains active in church ministry at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Las Vegas. She also enjoys having more time to spend with her family camping, fishing and on other outdoor recreation activities.

“I do miss the students at Highlands and all the wonderful people I worked with at the university. Highlands has been so good to me,” Chavez said.

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Luisa Pacheco
2017 Forever Cowboy Student Award

Luisa Pacheco, a psychology junior and accomplished musician, was chosen for the 2017 Forever Cowboy Student Award.

Pacheco, 19, is on the fast track to graduate in May 2018. The Las Vegas, New Mexico native and 2015 Robertson High School graduate entered Highlands as a sophomore, thanks to taking advantage of dual credit courses.

She traces her interest in psychology to childhood.

“My dad is a manager at the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute and I had the chance to observe different types of psychology professionals,” Pacheco said. “I’ve always been interested in working with children. I could see what a difference the child psychologists made for these youth as well as the importance of early intervention.”

While Pacheco had a number of college scholarships offers, she said Highlands was an easy choice.

“I chose Highlands because my parents graduated from here and I knew I’d get a good education. I love Highlands with all my heart. It’s like a home where everyone believes in you and wants you to succeed. I’m proud to be a Cowboy,” Pacheco said.

Her father, Luis Pacheco, earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial management in 1993, and her mother, Sharon Pacheco, earned a bachelor’s degree in business management 1987.

Pacheco said when she took her first psychology class at Highlands, she was completely hooked on the discipline.

“In this developmental psychology class with Dr. Linda LaGrange, I knew that my career path would be to become a child psychologist. The psychology professors are very motivating and take the time to know their student’s interests and aspirations,” Pacheco said.

She was elected the 2017 – 2018 president for Highlands’ Psi Chi Society, a scholarly honorary society for psychology majors. After she graduates, Pacheco plans to pursue a master’s degree in clinical psychology at Highlands.

Her minor at Highlands is music, but that only hints at what music means to her.

“I’ve played trumpet since I was five and music has always been an essential part of my life. When I play, it’s pure joy,” said Pacheco, who was named to the New Mexico All-State Band three times in high school and also performed with the Robertson Mariachi Cardenal group.

At Highlands, Pacheco plays in the university’s Jazz Ensemble.

“It’s a great experience performing with the Jazz Ensemble because it’s enriching musically and I get to interact with students from different majors and cultures,” Pacheco said.

Pacheco is a dedicated work study student in the university’s Alumni Affairs Office and Foundation Office.

“Although Luisa is a very caring and connected member of her own Las Vegas family, she lives and breathes Highlands purple,” said alumni director Juli Salman, who nominated Pacheco for the award. “When I think of someone who is always willing to step up and lend a hand to any project, I think of Luisa. She’s always game and her positive attitude is contagious.”

Pacheco said she enjoys meeting alumni of all ages and hearing their stories about what Highlands means to them.