February 5, 2020
Las Vegas, N.M.– New Mexico Highlands University will prepare more students for careers in natural resources management thanks to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture Hispanic Serving Institution grant.
The Leadership in Forestry Training (LIFT) grant project is a partnership with the University of New Mexico-Taos.
“LIFT is designed to increase the pipeline of students who complete associate degrees at UNM-Taos and then transfer to Highlands to complete their bachelor’s degrees in forestry, geology, biology or conservation management,” said Blanca Cespedes, a Highlands forestry professor who is the LIFT co-project director at Highlands. “The project also supports our students in master’s programs. It’s an exciting opportunity for students, especially non-traditional ones who are returning to higher education.”
The total award for the four-year USDA grant that originated from UNM-Taos is $1 million. The Highlands’ subaward portion of the grant is $342,869. The grant is a continuation of a previous USDA grant called the Northern New Mexico Climate Change Corps program.
“This Climate Change Corps program was an incredibly successful project focused on transferring natural resources students from UNM-Taos with an associate degree in sciences to science programs at Highlands. The Leadership in Forestry Training grant project increases the mentoring component by and for students,” Cespedes said.
Brooke Zanetell is a natural resources management professor at UNM-Taos. She is the author for the LIFT grant proposal and is the project director.
“We’re very excited to be working with Highlands,” Zanetell said. “Highlands is an awesome partner in this grant. The motto for the grant is to reach down to lift up.”
An important goal for the grant is to increase skilled graduates with natural resources management knowledge to fill USDA occupations.
The LIFT grant provides student support to help overcome barriers to success. This support includes academic stipends, advising to streamline degree completion, professional development to help students apply for and compete for jobs, and coordinating internships that provide work experience that makes students competitive for employment upon graduation.
Jasmine Romero, a Highlands biology major, who is on track to graduate in May 2020, participated in the Climate Change Corps program and is now a mentor for LIFT.
“I’m really looking forward to mentoring the UNM-Taos students at Highlands. I’m a success coach at the Highlands ARMAS program, Achieving in Research, Math and Science, and enjoy helping students accomplish their goals,” Romero said.
Romero, who is from the Taos Pueblo and transferred from UNM-Taos to complete her bachelor’s degree at Highlands, said the Climate Change Corps was valuable in helping students find paid internships.
“The LIFT project will continue helping students find internships that give them valuable experience. I worked at the U.S. Forest Service last summer in the Camino Real District in New Mexico to reinterpret and reopen the Pot Creek Cultural site, which is ancestral to my Taos Pueblo,” Romero said.
Monique Esquibel from Highlands is the Leadership in Forestry Training project coordinator at Highlands.
“I will coordinate activities including meetings, advising, field trips, career development events, summer internships and mentoring activities,” Esquibel said.
Initially, the Highlands students involved in the LIFT grant include biology senior Jasmine Romero and biology junior Michelle Caldwell, and forestry seniors Rita Daniels and Pascal Faurie, who will continue in the forestry master’s program at Highlands.
In addition, Highlands forestry undergraduate students participating in the grant include Brian Lindsey, Agnel Ribeiro, Alejandro Silva, Alicia Vigil and George Track.