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New Honor Society at Highlands University Expands Opportunities for Students Studying Spanish 

Two students and three professors wearing masks pose with Sigma Delta Pi charter for inaugural induction ceremony

The inaugural induction ceremony for Sigma Delta Pi, a new honor society for students studying Spanish at Highlands University

October 13, 2021

Highlands University has been chartered through the national Spanish honor society, the Sociedad Nacional Honoraria Hispánica Alpha Beta Lambda chapter of Sigma Delta Pi. The honor society provides a wide range of opportunities to members, including scholarships, internships, and study abroad programs.  

Spanish professor Norma A Valenzuela and bilingual education professor Elisabeth Valenzuela serve as co-advisors for Sigma Delta Pi and they said they hope the honor society will draw students to both the Spanish and education programs at Highlands.  

The first induction ceremony for Sigma Delta Pi was held in September. Highlands seniors Pablo Hernandez Mendieta and Benito Vigil were among the students inducted. The honor society’s co-advisors both credit Vigil, who is the president of the Spanish Club, with researching the organization and bringing it to campus.  

“We want the Spanish Club to be recognized nationally. We want to be a part of something bigger so that students are able to have the opportunity to apply for scholarships on a national level, and apply for different programs such as internships,” said Vigil. “I really felt that this was something that would be of benefit to the Highlands community.” 

Among other requirements, including a minimum of a 3.0 GPA, students interested in joining Sigma Delta Pi must be majoring or minoring in Spanish. This requirement is one that both Elisabeth Valenzuela and Norma Valenzuela hope will draw more students to their programs. Norma Valenzuela said that when she was hired in 2017 there was a strong push for recruitment in the Spanish program.  

“We have a history of collaboration with the School of Education, and specifically their teacher prep program, and their bilingual endorsement for teachers,” said Norma Valenzuela. “One of the things that we’re always looking for is how to get students interested in Spanish—not just taking the proficiency classes, but also advancing in Spanish courses.”  

Norma Valenzuela said Sigma Delta Pi will benefit students studying Spanish in the Department of Language and Culture and in the School of Education at Highlands. She said participation in the honor society is not limited to students at the main campus in Las Vegas, but is open to all students studying Spanish at the satellite centers, too.  

According to Elisabeth Valenzuela, Sigma Delta Pi will strengthen Highlands University’s ongoing leadership in bilingual education.  

“Northern New Mexico was one of the areas where the first bilingual programs were started,” Elisabeth Valenzuela said. “When we look at the history of New Mexico Highlands, its purpose was to prepare teachers and it was known around the state as the premier teacher preparation program.” 

Elisabeth Valenzuela said the School of Education is focused on growing and strengthening their teacher preparation program, and she said student enrollment in bilingual education is increasing.  

“The majority of our students that come to our teacher preparation program that are seeking the minor in bilingual education, a lot of them already have experience with teaching in the classroom as instructional assistants,” said Elisabeth Valenzuela. “Also, for the majority of them, Spanish is their first language and some students who are finishing this semester grew up bilingual.”  

Still, Elisabeth Valenzuela said she hopes to continue to strengthen Spanish instruction throughout the state.  

“One of the things that that I feel that our department needs to do more is improve our reach in Northern New Mexico,” Elisabeth Valenzuela said. “Right now, the majority of our students are in the Santa Fe and Rio Rancho/Albuquerque areas.” 

Benito Vigil said he was motivated to bring Sigma Delta Pi to campus as a way to continue building networks of Spanish-speaking students.  

“I wanted to attract more student to learn and enter the Spanish program at New Mexico Highlands University, because I feel that the Spanish language is significant part of our history, culture and identity,” said Vigil. “We do not have many students in the program, and I want future students and generations to be enriched and exposed to this beautiful language. This program will keep the legacy and the culture alive.”  

Vigil said that being connected to a national organization will expand opportunities for Highlands students, and he said it will build on the important work done by previous faculty members and community members, in addition to providing national opportunities.  

“The honor society will hold us to a higher standard,” Vigil said. “We have honorary members who have been an important part of Highlands and really keeping the Spanish language and cultural life. One of the people that we’ve brought in is Dr. Sarah Harris, who was a Spanish teacher at Highlands for a long time. She’s played a major role in keeping the culture and language alive and making sure we have students who continue the legacy of the Spanish language and who don’t allow that to die out.” 

Vigil said he plans to bring a representative from the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, or HACU, to campus. Vigil is currently interning with a federal agency through HACU, and he said he wants to make other students aware of these types of opportunities, too. He also has ideas for reaching out to the community by hosting a book-drive, reading in Spanish to kids, and creating a community-wide Spanish Club associated with the 100% community program.  

Norma Valenzuela said students inducted into Delta Sigma Pi will have access to national and international opportunities they might not have otherwise.  

“Someone like Benito could apply for a study abroad program and go to Spain or Mexico to immerse themselves in that country,” said Norma Valenzuela. “The scholarship and internship opportunities are an excellent thing for students as well. Hopefully, that will also have an impact on undergraduates so that they can take more classes in Spanish or pursue a major or minor in Spanish.”  

Elisabeth Valenzuela said it’s important to recognize that there is not just one correct Spanish dialect, and she said that the students at Highlands reflect the diversity within the Spanish language.  

“It’s important to highlight the richness of the Spanish language within the state of New Mexico,” said Elisabeth Valenzuela. “We want to be able to take the Spanish that is spoken within our communities here, and bring this to the honor society and take pride in that. All languages are beautiful and rich and based on the context and communities that speak those languages.”  

Vigil said that the work of keeping the Spanish language and culture alive will begin at Highlands and radiate out into the community. He also notes that students interested in the Spanish Language or learning more about the program can reach out to him or visit the Language Learning Center. The Language Learning Center offers in-person or virtual tutoring in Spanish and American Sign Language.  

“We want to make sure that the kids and generations to come have that querencia and desire to keep the language alive,” said Vigil. “One of the big focuses of the honor society is not only inviting students into the program, but enriching them with the Spanish language and culture, and being able to communicate with others. Si no somos perfectos, pero si hablamos.” 

 

To learn more about Sigma Delta Pi or the Spanish programs available at Highlands University, contact Norma Valenzuela at nvalenzuela@nmhu.edu