August 16, 2022
New Mexico Highlands University President Sam Minner has awarded six scholarships to members of the Highlands community to take the Animal Care and Control course from the National Animal Control and Care Association, or NACA.
Six people were chosen for the opportunity out of sixty applications, and they are being supported to enroll in the class through the school’s community engagement funds.
President Minner said that although the ongoing concern for animal welfare in Las Vegas and across the state was a motivating factor for offering the scholarships, his goal is to provide opportunities for people to add to their skillsets in a way that may open more doors down the road—whether that’s in Las Vegas or beyond.
“The goal is not to assume they’re going to work in this domain, or that anybody locally is going to hire them—it’s really about capacity building in the community,” Minner said. “These people will learn about best practices and maybe they’ll serve on a board or get a summer job if the city is willing to hire them, but it’s mainly about building up capacity, knowledge, skill, and expertise in the community.”
One student who received the Animal Care and Control course scholarship, Briana Garcia, just graduated with her bachelor’s degree in biology. Garcia said she applied for the scholarship because she plans to pursue a veterinary degree.
“I thought it would greatly benefit me in a lot of ways to think about certain aspects of animal care that veterinarians should consider, as well as how it pertains to our state,” Garcia said.
Garcia is from Santa Fe and said she chose to attend Highlands because of its size and affordability. She credits the biology department and the Achieving in Research, Math, and Science, or ARMAS Center, for helping her thrive in college.
“I’ve always been fascinated by animals, and I’ve always realized how important community is, so I figured it was something that I could apply to my life,” Garcia said. “As a vet, you may work more with animals, but an important part is also having to communicate with the client.”
Garcia said her time in Las Vegas and in learning about the Animal Welfare Coalition’s work helped her understand the financial constraints that many pet owners face.
“As a future vet and as a Hispanic person from New Mexico, I want to give back to my community—and specifically the ones that are low-income earning,” Garcia said. “I’d like to establish more education, some kind of funding, and more events that can help prevent certain diseases or irreparable harm in the future. So, I’m really excited to learn a lot and to make my place as a future vet.”
Another scholarship recipient, Queren Saldana Luna, said she applied for the Animal Care and Control course for entirely different reasons. Saldana Luna just finished her undergraduate degree in social work and begins her graduate coursework in social work at NMHU this fall.
“One of the reasons I applied is because I had just taken a class on family violence, and one of the things that I learned in that class is that being violent to animals is one of the first things that really predicts domestic violence at home or that a child is going to be violent in their adult life,” Saldana Luna said. “So, I thought this was a great opportunity to become more acquainted with the subject and learn more about animals.”
Saldana Luna lives in Albuquerque and does not have any pets of her own. She said she was raised in Los Angeles in a family that moved around a lot, so she never had pets at home. Saldana Luna said she’s eager to take the Animal Care and Control class because it will enrich her understanding of a topic that she has so far been unfamiliar with. Additionally, because she hopes to work directly with domestic violence victims in the future, she said the course will give her additional insights into both animal and human behavior.
Minner said he sees Highlands University as a community partner dedicated to community-minded responses. The scholarships offered for the Animal Care and Control course are just one of many animal welfare initiatives the university has participated in, including hosting a fundraiser for the Animal Welfare Coalition and bringing shelter dog photographer and author, Traer Scott, to campus this past spring.
“I think President Minner has always been innovative in his thinking, and he’s always willing to support our community, as well as other communities,” said Las Vegas Mayor, Louie Trujillo. “I think this is a great opportunity for students, and it shows that New Mexico Highlands University is progressive in its thinking regarding specialized training.”