Photo of two students working together in chemistry lab.

Destiny Martínez, left, and Elizabeth Larrañaga conduct an experiment in a Highlands chemistry lab. 
Photo: Margaret McKinney/University Relations

October 23, 2019

Las Vegas, N.M. – Chemistry students at Robertson High School in Las Vegas, New Mexico are getting a taste of completing their laboratory assignments in a college setting at New Mexico Highlands University, thanks to a collaboration between the two schools.

The chemistry students receive dual high school and college credit in the General Chemistry I lab that Robertson High teacher Margaret Lewis teaches at Highlands as adjunct faculty.

“It’s a whole new paradigm for high school science instruction and is very exciting,” Lewis said.

“The chemistry labs at Highlands are so well organized, making it a stimulating and fun learning experience for my students and myself.

“My goal is to expose my students to advanced learning and have them feel very comfortable with the chemistry lab environment at Highlands. I would love for my students to enter the chemistry program at Highlands. My secondary goal is for my students to engage in college-level lab activities that they wouldn’t ordinarily experience,” Lewis said.

Lewis said her students are finding the Highlands chemistry labs challenging, and at the same time, are enjoying themselves.

“This is a huge win for me. They are learning to be proper scientists. I’m so proud of them,” Lewis said.

“It’s been so interesting to learn new scientific ideas in the chemistry labs at Highlands,” said Brianna Jaramillo, a Robertson junior from Las Vegas. “We have the opportunity to experience college when we are high school students. We get both high school and college credit, which is amazing.”

“I really love science and am interested in a medical career,” said Jenae Salas, also a Robertson junior and Las Vegas native. “We’re getting to do exciting chemistry experiments that we don’t get to do at high school. I’m gaining confidence in both chemistry and math.”

Lewis said her Robertson students are holding their own and experiencing success in the General Chemistry I lab assignments on par with other chemistry students at Highlands. She said her Highlands graduate teaching assistant, Bailey Wallace, has played a key role.

“Bailey has been an incredible help and absolutely indispensable to making this lab run smoothly,” Lewis said.

The idea for the Robertson High chemistry lab at Highlands came about when Lewis asked David Sammeth, Highlands chemistry professor and chemistry department chair, about the possibility of chemistry faculty guest speakers from Highlands and tours of the Highlands chemistry labs for her students.

“Dr. Sammeth proposed I teach a chemistry lab at Highlands for my Robertson students and I give him full credit. I thought it was such an intriguing idea, and was excited about the collaboration with Highlands and opportunities for my students,” said Lewis, a longtime science teacher at Memorial Middle School and Robertson High School in Las Vegas who earned her master’s degree in science instruction from New Mexico Tech.

“The primary goal of this collaboration is to strengthen the science taught at Robertson, and to help the students consider crossing the bridge to higher education. We want to be partners with the educational community in Las Vegas,” Sammeth said.

Lewis said she is grateful to Sammeth and Las Vegas City Schools for supporting the unique learning opportunities for her chemistry students.