New Initiative Aims to Spark Lifelong Learning Culture


Photo: Margaret McKinney/Highlands University
Highlands interim associate vice president of academic affairs Carol Linder, left, responds to a question during her HU: Learning Happens Here talk May 30 while Deseree Povijua, a Highlands student recruiter, listens.

Las Vegas, New Mexico – A new initiative at New Mexico Highlands University aims to spark a culture of lifelong learning.

Highlands President Sam Minner launched HU: Learning Happens Here this spring.

“One of the great advantages of working at a university is being around smart people who are interested in their own intellectual development,” Minner said. “The primary purpose of HU: Learning Happens Here is to signal that it’s important for every person at the university, no matter what their job, to continue to grow.”

The new program includes monthly talks by Highlands faculty for staff with an open discussion to delve further into the topics. Denise Montoya, Highlands’ human resources director, coordinated the initiative in partnership with Minner.

“The program highlights our passionate and talented faculty and administrators at Highlands,” Montoya said. “Our goal is to demonstrate the rich diversity of expert knowledge we share as a learning institution.”

Montoya said the response to HU: Learning Happens Here has been extremely positive.

“We received overwhelmingly great feedback from staff both during the sessions and through surveys. People said the sessions are very engaging, helping illuminate the topics discussed as well as increasing appreciation for the learning environment we provide to our students at Highlands,” Montoya said.

She the variety of topics, ranging from Native American education to zombies and volcanoes, appealed to participants.

“All the speakers are passionate about their topics, making the sessions dynamic,” Montoya said.

On May 30, Carol Linder, interim associate vice president for academic affairs, presented a talk titled, Of Mice and Men: Deciphering Male Infertility.

Linder, who is a reproductive cell biologist and also a biology professor at Highlands, joined the faculty in 2004. She established her Reproductive Biology Laboratory in 2005.

“My lab uses genetic mouse models to identify genes and understand the mechanisms required for spermatogenesis — sperm development,” Linder said. “Humans and mice have similar DNA, or genetic blueprints. The ultimate goal is to provide insight into human male infertility.”

Linder said roughly 15 percent of couples in the Western world experience problems conceiving, with male infertility accounting for about half of these cases of infertility.

In her lab, Linder has mentored 40 Highlands undergraduate students and 12 graduate students.

Josephine Sena, a librarian in Highlands University’s Donnelly Library, participated in Linder’s talk and dialogue.

“Dr. Linder’s talk was fascinating because I learned so much about the causes of male infertility, like proteins in sperm development that don’t function properly,” Sena said. “It was also interesting to learn about how genetic testing can be used to target treatment for diseases like cancer.”

Sena said she has participated in several HU learning sessions.

“I’m always curious to learn more,” Sena said.

Earlier HU: Learning Happens Here sessions included:

  • Why We Love Zombies – Brandon Kempner, Ph.D., English literature professor.
  • Volcanoes and Vineyards: Ten Years of NMHU Geology Student Research Excursions to Europe – Michael Petronis, Ph.D., geology professor.
  • Why Do Women’s Haircuts Cost More Than Men’s and Why Are Women Willing to Pay More: Critical Theory in Everyday Life – Sam Minner, Ph.D., Highlands president.
  • Reclaiming Native American Indian Education – A New Direction? – Jeremiah Cronin, Ph.D., education professor.

Montoya said Kempner, in his role as Faculty Senate chair, played a key role in encouraging faculty to participate in the new program.

“HU: Learning Happens Here proved to be such a success that we plan to continue the program during fall semester 2017,” Montoya said.

The Highlands President’s Office sponsors each of the HU: Learning Happens Here sessions, providing brownbag lunches for the university participants.