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Crowd Turns Out For Highlands University Raton Center Open House

Photo: Margaret McKinney, Highlands University

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“We’re glad to have Highlands in our community to add educational opportunity for our students,” said David Willden, superintendent for Raton Public Schools. “The center is not just for our young students. It’s also for people who are non-traditional students. You provide hope for the community that there’s a better life out there.”
Willden said that he was a non-traditional student himself, working after high school and starting college at the age of 27.
The Raton Center offers university courses in traditional classroom settings, as well as interactive television (ITV) classes, and online classes. 
Robin Martinez, 24, is a Raton High School graduate who is in her second semester studying elementary education with a minor in bilingual education at the Raton Center. She decided she wanted to be a teacher when she was working at Raton Middle School.
“We’re so grateful Highlands is here in town, and the staff and professors are really helpful,” Martinez said. “I work at the high school now, and when I get off work at 3:30 I come to class at the center. It’s so convenient not having to travel. It also gives me more time with my sons, who are 6 and 2.”
The Raton Center also serves students from the surrounding communities of Springer, Maxwell, Cimarron, Clayton, Des Moines and Capulin. 
“This Highlands Center is a true asset to our community but it’s not just for Raton, it’s for northeastern New Mexico,” said Raton Mayor Jesse James Johnson. “Now you can get your higher education here, whether you’re a kid or an adult. You don’t have to pack your bags and leave the area.”
Vince Garcia, the coordinator for the Raton Center, said the university offers a high number of evening and Saturday classes to accommodate its students, many of whom work full-time like Martinez and have family responsibilities.
Melinda Bernal is another Raton Center student who juggles work, family and school. The 36-year-old sophomore is taking core courses while working full-time managing the Movie Gallery in Raton. She is also mom to three Raton High School students:  Sara Thomason, a senior, Michael Thomason, a sophomore, and Heather Thomason, a freshman.
“My oldest daughter Sara is taking dual credit courses at Highlands so we’re going to college together, which is cool,” Bernal said. “I want my kids to know that it’s never too late to go to college, and going to the Raton Center also helps me be the kind of role model I want to be for them.
“Sara already has 16 college credits through the Dual Credit Program and will continue at Highlands after she graduates from high school. We want to graduate from college together,” Bernal said.
The university’s dual credit program gives eligible high school students a chance to earn university credit while also satisfying some high school graduation requirements.  The university waives course fees for these students.
“It was great to see such a large turnout from the community for this open house,” Garcia said. “It gave us a chance to raise awareness about academic programs the Raton Center offers. The center is a gem of opportunity and belongs to the community.”
To date, the center’s School of Education shows the highest enrollment and number of graduates. The center also offers a bachelor’s degree and M.B.A. through the School of Business, and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
New this semester is an R.N. to B.S.N. program, which gives licensed registered nurses a chance to advance their training through a bachelor’s degree.
The Highlands University Raton Center is at 130 Park Ave. The phone number is 575-445-0445. More details about academic offerings for the Raton Center are online at www.nmhu.edu  Use the statewide centers link.