LAS VEGAS, NM – New Mexico Highlands named Cristina Durán as the new dean of the university’s Facundo Valdez School of Social Work.
Durán has served as the school’s interim associate dean since July, 2014.
“I’ve been with the school for many years in a variety of roles,” Durán said. “I want to be a strong part of seeing the school grow and find new ways to respond to the needs of people in the state and region.”
Durán began her work with the Facundo Valdez School of Social Work in 1991 as a field consultant. In 1996, Durán became a field coordinator then, in 2006, became an assistant professor. The school promoted her to associate professor in 2011, a position she held until becoming interim associate dean.
“We have tremendous talent in our school,” said Durán, who earned a Ph.D. in American studies from the University of New Mexico and her Master of Social Welfare degree from UCLA. “We have the potential to be a model for innovation and develop programs that respond to the pressing needs in our communities. We can be a beacon of social work schools in the region to meet the needs in our midst.”
Durán said she has three immediate goals for the school: to become better connected across the university’s statewide locations within the School of Social Work, find avenues of collaboration with other Highlands University departments and achieve a successful reaccreditation visit in 2020, continuing the school’s tradition of the oldest accredited school of social work in New Mexico.
“Sometimes professional schools become separated from the university as a whole,” Durán said. “As we have some of the highest enrollment numbers at Highlands, we have a lot to offer.”
Highlands President Sam Minner said Durán’s passion for the social work field will continue to improve the school.
“Dr. Durán’s breadth of experience in the field and in the classroom will prove invaluable to the Facundo Valdez School of Social Work,” Minner said. “I’m pleased she is a longtime part of the Highlands family and will continue to be so.”
Durán said she was first attracted to the field of social work while working on her undergraduate degree in sociology at the University of Oregon.
“My parents instilled in me a respect for all people,” Durán said. “My undergraduate work exposed me to the concept of social inequality. Later on, I worked as a sign language interpreter. That got me into situations where I saw firsthand the people who needed the most help were often treated the most poorly.”
Durán said one of her professors urged her to pursue a master’s degree and career in social work.
“The most rewarding aspect of social work is you are able to witness people’s resilience in the face of enormous obstacles,” Durán said. “You are in a position to observe how people have the sprit, will and motivation to make their lives better.”
Durán said she finds her work as an administrator rewarding as well.
“There are many clients who rely on us and our graduates,” Durán said. “It’s my duty to graduate the best social workers. It helps me as an administrator to stay focused on the task at hand and why we do the work we’re doing.”