Victoria Stark-Romero is a three-time graduate of NMHU and currently works as the Nursing Program Coordinator for NMHU’s new online master’s degree in nursing. Her role is busy and hands-on, from student advising, to coordinating program details and clinicals, to overseeing orientation.
“What don’t I do at my job?” Stark-Romero said, laughing. Although it keeps her busy, Stark-Romero is engaged in her work and feels that the program is essential to filling in healthcare gaps in northern New Mexico.
“I grew up in Mora, so the chances of having some of us living in rural areas be able to actually go to college is limited,” Stark-Romero said. “Highlands, and our program, is giving students access to education in their area.”
The master’s degree in nursing is a program that was created to be almost entirely online to accommodate the schedules of working healthcare professionals who want to add to their skills and increase their employment and salary opportunities. According to Stark-Romero, it is a win-win for students and for the communities that need more healthcare providers.
“When people come in from other places, they stay a year at the most so there’s no continuous care for patients,” Stark-Romero said. “That’s where this program is really going to help because you have people that are living in Mora, El Rito, and Santa Rosa with no intention of moving. They want to get their advanced degrees and continue to practice where they live.”
Stark-Romero received her bachelor’s degree in finance from NMHU and later pursued a master’s degree in social work. During this time, she began tutoring at Luna Community College and was then asked to teach a course there. Although she never thought she would become a teacher, she discovered a passion for working with college students. After she earned her master’s degree, Stark-Romero helped to launch the bachelor’s in nursing program at NMHU in 2008. Three years ago, she came back to help launch the new master’s program in nursing.
“Highlands provides a great, quality education. Community is a big thing because we are always there; if you call, we answer the phone and we’re happy to help,” Stark-Romero said. “Sometimes I get calls from students not even related to anything in the program—sometimes they are just feeling stressed. It doesn’t matter what it’s for, we’re here.”
Stark-Romero models her approach with students on her own experience with professors at NMHU. She particularly remembers Dr. Ray Martinez and Dr. Ron Maestas as patient, dedicated, and approachable.
“I try to just be available with my students. I have this rule with all of them—if you stare at something for fifteen minutes and you still don’t understand, call me or let’s get on Zoom,” Stark-Romero said. “It’s a community feeling; you’re not just a number and we know who you are,” Stark-Romero said. “I had a great experience—obviously! I went back three times! If you’re willing to put in time, dedication, and effort, then absolutely, you can do whatever you want to do.”