Las Vegas, N.M. — Teresita Aguilar is the new provost and vice president of academic affairs at New Mexico Highlands University.
She replaces Gilbert Rivera, the university’s former vice president of academic affairs who retired in December 2013 after many years of service to the university.
Aguilar, a graduate dean in the Office of Graduate Studies at the University of New Mexico from 2002 — 2005, brings a wealth of academic and administrative higher education experience to her new position at Highlands.
Most recently, she directed the Center for Mexican American Studies and Research at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio from 2010 — 2013. From 2005 — 2010, she served as OLLU’s dean of the School of Professional Studies and the Worden School of Social Work.
“Dr. Aguilar has a distinguished record of more than 25 years of higher education experience as both a professor and administrator,” said Highlands President Jim Fries. “She is a highly respected national leader in multicultural education and student success.
“I expect Dr. Aguilar will bring a very solid and collaborative leadership style to the provost’s position,” Fries said.
In previous positions, Aguilar served as associate dean in the College of Education and Integrative Studies at California State Polytechnic University — Pomona from 2000 — 2002.
Her tenure at the University of Nebraska from 1991 — 2000 included various responsibilities. Aguilar developed and taught in a Multicultural Education Program, was chair of the Graduate Program, and vice chair of the Center for Curriculum and Instruction.
Aguilar has also taught as a faculty member at Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico. She has published extensively in scholarly journals in the United States and internationally, with a focus on multicultural education, student success, and more.
“A major goal for me is to create initiatives that will enhance and improve graduation rates,” Aguilar said. “This begins with a comprehensive analysis of current policies, practices and data that have an impact on retention and graduation.”
She will also begin meeting one-on-one with all full-time faculty.
“At a small university you can work with faculty in a more meaningful way. I respect diverse faculty views and have a strong commitment to inclusion, integrity, respect and vision. When we collectively put our heads together at Highlands, we will have a deeper understanding and appreciation for defining student success,” Aguilar said.
She added that she wants to maximize resources and collaboration across academic disciplines.
Aguilar said she was also drawn to Highlands because of its student demographics and accessibility to an affordable public education.
“The student population is a matter of immense importance to me. Highlands has a significant number of Hispanic students and first-generation college students. I get that because I was first generation myself,” Aguilar said.
A first-generation student is one who is the first in his or her family to attend college.
“When you’re a first-generation college student you’re essentially entering a foreign land. The question is how do we collectively help translate that foreign experience to students and their families in ways that foster student success?” Aguilar said.
She is committed to increasing graduation rates for every student demographic group at the university, including the growing number of nontraditional students.
The Texas native earned her Ph.D. in higher education from the University of North Texas in Denton, where she also completed her M.S.
Aguilar calls herself Tex-Mex-Czech, with three grandparents from Mexico and one grandmother from the Czech Republic. She is bilingual.
Aguilar is glad to be back in the Land of Enchantment.
“I feel at home in New Mexico, and am drawn spiritually to the mountains and desert,” she said.