When Anny Morrobel-Sosa joined the University of Alabama in 1985 as an assistant professor in chemistry, she said colleagues told her she was the first female, first non-white physical sciences faculty member the university had ever had.
She would later become the first woman tenure-track engineering professor at Cal Poly.
“The idea of being first is not new to me,” Morrobel-Sosa said Tuesday at the University of New Mexico, where she has the opportunity to become the institution’s first female president.
Morrobel-Sosa is the second of five finalists to visit the Albuquerque campus, following Monday’s appearance by Dr. David Brenner. The other three candidates — Chuck Staben, Garnett Stokes and Kenneth Kaushansky — have scheduled visits over the next two weeks.
The former provost at Lehman College in the Bronx, Morrobel-Sosa told a crowd that included faculty, staff, students and even some regents during an open forum that she believes UNM is “primed to be the pre-eminent research and innovation institution,” and offered her thoughts about how to achieve that status.
She said UNM must consider the changing student base, which might require a different teaching style and which has expanded well beyond the fresh-from-high-school teenager pursuing a four-year degree. She suggested the institution could grow its revenue stream by offering classes outside the traditional academic terms and exploring new degrees, possibly incorporating more five-year, bachelor’s-to-master’s programs.
“As the flagship university for this state, it is important to continue to be relevant, accessible, sustainable and agile,” she said.
Morrobel-Sosa also discussed “shared governance” — and how the model established more than 50 years ago focuses on just faculty, the president and the university’s governing board. She said the model could evolve to get more input from other constituencies, like students and staff.
While she did not discuss in detail the university’s stark budget situation, she noted the importance of private support and said she would have no trouble seeking contributions from those with the means to provide them.
“I will make obviously every effort to meet as many as I can (and to) garner new potential donors, new friends,” she said. “I recognize that being an outsider to the Albuquerque, New Mexico, environment will require I do a lot more homework with regard to preparation in these kinds of activities, but I have no qualms in asking individuals for money to support what I believe to be a good effort at the institution for the support of students, for the support of faculty, and for the support of programs.”
Morrobel-Sosa, born in the Dominican Republic, said she is drawn to the Southwest. She previously worked at the University of Texas at El Paso and spent a few summers in the early 1990s as a fellow at the Los Alamos Meson Physics Facility.
She on multiple occasions referenced UNM’s rate of first-generation college students — who represent about half the student body — and the number of students from lower socioeconomic circumstances. Morrobel-Sosa said she can relate to some of their challenges having been raised by a single mom, a secretary, and having been the first in her family to attend college. She said continued advising is important to such students’ success.
Forum attendees who asked questions inquired about Morrobel-Sosa’s background in research and her experience with governing boards, lawmakers and governors.
She said that during her five years heading the College of Science at UTEP, research spending jumped from $8 million to $13 million, something she attributed to carefully considering faculty workload and allowing members to travel to conferences and other venues so they could meet face-to-face with the people who make funding decisions.
Her formal interaction with governing boards and elected officials has been limited at her previous institutions where such responsibilities rested with senior administrators, she said.
In response to other questions, she also addressed concerns related to undocumented students and campus sexual harassment and assault.
Morrobel-Sosa said the university has the responsibility to educate all of its students “regardless of where they were born.”
On sexual harassment, she said many women of her era have experienced some form through the years, and it’s critical to model respectful behavior.
“I think encouraging a culture of inclusion and acceptance is the only way you can begin to diminish — I doubt we’ll ever eliminate it — but begin to diminish (it). … And I will do my utmost to ensure that happens whether it be by policy or whether it be by action,” she said.