Distinguished Alumnus Award 2022: Max Baca

Max Baca

Max Baca, Distinguished Alumnus Awardee for Max Baca

Max Baca has been a fixture of the New Mexico Highlands University community since he enrolled at the school in 1982 on a football scholarship. Although he has now served as the Vice President of Finance and Administration for nine years, Baca is responsible for bringing the university into the computer age much earlier than might otherwise have been possible.

Baca arrived at Highlands University from Santa Fe High. Despite having been recruited to play football for West Point, Baca chose Highlands.

“I was number four out of five babies, so there wasn’t much money for school,” Baca said. “And it was close to home. I had a couple of friends from Santa Fe who also came here so that made it easier. So, we had our little group and we all hung out together.”

Baca joined the National Guard before he started at Highlands to help pay for college. He then enrolled for an associate degree in electronic engineering, and he applied to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corp through the military science program and became commander of the detachment unit at NMHU.

Baca returned to Santa Fe in 1984 briefly and worked as a service manager at a computer company, but he soon returned to Highlands, where he was promptly hired by the arts and sciences department to work on their newly acquired PCs from IBM. From there, Baca said he was hired full-time because no one else knew how to do computer networking.

“I was fortunate that they entrusted me to wire all the buildings, and so I became a data communications engineer and pulled in all the fiber optics,” Max said.

Not only did Baca help bring Highlands into the computer age—he also brought the university into the internet age. In 1994, Baca was introduced to the earliest iteration of the internet. Although there were only about 100 websites in the U.S. at the time, Baca said he knew it was going to be a gamechanger.

“I was on the front end of it. I saw it and I said, ‘This is going to change everything—education, commerce, everything,’” Baca said.

Baca said he knew the world would soon catch up and dedicated himself to learning everything he could about the internet so he could facilitate its use at Highlands.

In 2010, Baca got a business degree at Highlands in management information systems. Baca also worked as a project manager for facilities and oversaw campus renovations, and later worked on capital outlay projects and government relations for the university. At that point, he had built a robust portfolio that included everything except finance, so he pursued a Master of Business Administration at Highlands.

“Highlands blessed me in that I was always here at the right time in order to tap into my skills,” Baca said. “It was like this big playground where people supported my ideas of what we needed to do.”

Baca said he is proudest of his recent work, alongside President Minner, to increase pay on campus.

“If I look back at my career, I would say that moving us to $15 an hour and making the investments that we made will save Las Vegas,” Baca said. “For me, it’s always been how can I leave this a better place than when I found it?”