March 17, 2021

photo of Shantini Ramakrishnan

Shantini Ramakrishnan

Las Vegas, N.M. – New Mexico Highlands University received a grant for its Conservation Science Center @ HU to build new partnerships with community conservation organizations.

The McCune Charitable Foundation awarded the grant to the Highlands University Foundation in March 2021.

“Our school-aged and undergraduate college students are the future stewards of New Mexico’s rich natural and cultural heritage,” said Shantini Ramakrishnan, who leads the McCune grant at Highlands. “When we bring regional partners together, collectively we can leverage our skills, knowledge and expertise to provide transformative experiences for our students.”

Ramakrishnan is the conservation and restoration education program manager for the Conservation Science Center @ HU, which was established fall semester 2020.

Ramakrishnan said that by building partnerships with community conservation organizations, students can meet diverse leaders and learn different perspectives about land management.

“The Conservation Science Center @HU is working to cultivate local stewards who can actively lead the conservation of local landscapes. We want to prepare our youth for these leadership roles by providing opportunities where they can develop skills, grow in confidence, meet new people, investigate science careers, and delve into local climate change challenges,” Ramakrishnan said.

Some of the elements of the McCune grant include:

  • Facilitate workshops with local conservation nonprofits to build opportunities for increased collaboration.
  • Develop a strategic plan for the Conservation Science Center @ HU.
  • Identify effective funding streams for the center.

Some of the partner organizations for the Conservation Science Center @ HU include the Hermit’s Peak Watershed Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife, New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, New Mexico Forestry Division, High Plains Grassland Alliance, and the National Park Service.

“If we work with our partners to offer engaging programs throughout the student’s schooling, maybe we can grow that initial curiosity into a full-fledged science career,” Ramakrishnan said.

Ramakrishnan said Joe Zebrowski, a forestry instructor and director of Geospatial Technology at Highlands, will play an important role in the McCune grant implementation.

“Joe has been facilitating partnerships for the last 10 years with community conservation organizations and will continue to use his network and experience to build more working groups to maximize initiatives of the Conservation Science Center @HU,” Ramakrishnan said.

“The most exciting thing about this McCune grant is the assistance it will provide in determining the future mission and role of the Conservation Science Center as a resource for Highlands and the communities of Northern New Mexico,” Zebrowski said. “My goal for working on this grant is to see that we have a long-term framework for growing and maintaining the capacity of the Conservation Science Center @HU to be a vital community partner.”

Ramakrishnan wrote the McCune Charitable Foundation grant proposal with input from Zebrowski and Edward Martínez, a former natural resources management professor at Highlands who works on special projects for Highlands University President Sam Minner.

“The McCune Charitable Foundation has been a strong supporter of Northern New Mexico youth and we are grateful for the foundation’s continued commitment with this new grant,” Ramakrishnan said.