Las Vegas, N.M – The Facundo Valdez School of Social Work at Highlands University is named for one of its founders, a champion for the poor and underserved.
The university celebrated Valdez and his legacy at a naming ceremony Oct. 4
Valdez was a national leader in the social work profession, with the National Association of Social Workers honoring him as a Social Work Pioneer in 1993. In 1972, Valdez was a driving force in creating the School of Social Work at Highlands.
“Facundo Valdez strove to make Highlands a better place while also being a strong national leader in advocating for migrant workers as well as mental health services for Hispanics and Native Americans,” said Highlands University President Sam Minner. “The social work program at Highlands remains one of the very best things we do at this university, and Facundo Valdez built a solid foundation.”
The Facundo Valdez School of Social Work was one of the first in the Southwestern United States. In 1974, the Council of Social Work Education first accredited the program, and it is accredited through 2020. The program has a long history of being recognized for excellence including being honored as an Academic School of Excellence by the Higher Learning Commission’s North Central Association.
In December 2015, the Highlands University Board of Regents voted unanimously to name the university’s social work program in Valdez’ honor. He was born in Mora, New Mexico, in 1932 and died in 2014.
Valdez earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Highlands. He went on to complete his Master of Social Work at the University of Denver in 1963.
“Facundo Valdez was a son of Highlands with a special vision and passion for community development,” said Andrew Israel, interim social work dean. “He was dedicated to helping the diverse communities of Northern New Mexico, and cared most about the poor, the hungry and the disenfranchised of our rural areas. He saw the social work school as a way to train culturally competent professionals with the same degree of spirited commitment to these populations.”
Israel said that by adopting Facundo Valdez’ name, the School of Social Work creates a permanent bond between the rich historical aspirations of the school’s founders and its future.
The audience at the dedication reception was invited to share memories of Valdez.
“I was a student of Facundo Valdez 30 years ago when I completed my MSW at Highlands,” said Bill Mast, who later earned a law degree and is a Sandoval County Magistrate Court judge. “I remember discussing all kinds of philosophy and issues like civil rights with Facundo late into the night. He was a great leader, a very strong mentor and a wonderful friend.”
Arturo Gonzáles was a faculty member in the School of Social Work from 1973 – 1979.
“Facundo would bring people in, including green faculty like me, and would train them, teach them and invest in them,” Gonzáles said. “In today’s world we have very few people like Facundo with integrity and honesty who want to work hard. He was a great man who inspired the social work faculty and students to work for all communities because everyone counts.”
Valdez taught in Highlands’ social work program from 1972 – 1979, returning later to teach until 1987. Before his tenure at Highlands, he worked at the University of New Mexico in various capacities including directing the Special Service Program Institute for Social Research and Development.
Valdez was a founding member of the National Council of La Raza, an organization that advocates for Mexican-Americans in economic development and business enterprises. He held numerous social work leadership positions, such as serving as executive director for the Sangre De Cristo Community Health Partnership.
Valdez was a nationally known consultant on rural development for entities like VISTA, or Volunteers in Service to America, a federal anti-poverty program established in 1964.
He worked until near the end of his life, with his last position at the Rio Grande Alcoholism Treatment Center.
In 2013, the New Mexico Acequia Association honored Valdez with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
More information about the Facundo Valdez School of School Work and its program offerings is online at http://www.nmhu.edu/current-students/undergraduate/social-work/