Las Vegas, New Mexico – Three outstanding New Mexico Highlands University students received scholarships from the Las Vegas chapter of the American Association of University Women.
Samantha Urioste, Brittany Dutton-Leyda, and Jennifer Smith each received $1,000 scholarships.
“These three outstanding women impressed the scholarship committee with their strong determination to complete their education while juggling many challenges,” said Donna Rivas, co-president of the Las Vegas AAUW chapter. “The local AAUW scholarships honor nontraditional students because we philosophically believe these students need extra support to reach their academic goals and help empower their lives.”
Samantha Urioste, 26, is a Master of Social Work student from Las Vegas, New Mexico. She also earned her BSW at Highlands. Urioste said she was drawn to the social work profession after overcoming substance abuse. She said becoming pregnant was a strong motivator to become sober, and that her 5-year-old son is a blessing. Urioste plans to bring hope to substance-abuse clients, letting them know they can overcome anything if they work hard enough.
“The support from my social work professors and classmates has helped me overcome so much at Highlands,” said Urioste, who is a student at the Highlands main campus in Las Vegas. “I was a hesitant student at first, but professors like Dr. Rebecca Moore and Debra Rodda made me realize my potential and encouraged me to excel.”
Samantha Urioste and her son, Evan – photo courtesy of Matthew David Kuiper
Brittany Dutton-Leyda, 31, will graduate in May 2019 with a double major in criminal justice and sociology/anthropology. The mother of two school-age daughters has worked full time as a paralegal in the public and private sector for more than 10 years while attending college. She said her goal is to attend law school, where she can combine her background in the legal field with her love of criminal justice and sociology to create a lifelong career.
“Highlands has made it possible for me to reach my education and career goals by offering a flexible program for unconventional students like myself to attend classes via Zoom technology, online and in the evenings,” said Dutton-Leyda, who is a student at the Highlands Santa Fe Center.
Brittany Dutton-Leyda – courtesy photo
Jennifer Smith, 54, will graduate in May with a Master of Social Work with a concentration in leadership and administration. She also earned her BSW at Highlands. She worked for many years in the construction industry, becoming a manager before enrolling at the Highlands Albuquerque Center. Smith said her volunteer work both as a rape crisis advocate and with New Mexico veterans influenced her hopes to serve the active-duty combat-zone military who experience the trauma of military sexual assault.
“At Highlands I’ve been blessed with many inspirational professors,” Smith said. “The opportunity to learn from them has awakened a thirst within me. Professors willing to share so much knowledge left me hungry for more.”
Jennifer Smith – courtesy photo
The Las Vegas AAUW branch funds its scholarships to Highlands students through the organization’s annual book sales.