LAS CRUCES – Barbara Damron said she is ready to hit the ground running if selected to be the new chancellor of New Mexico State University.
Damron met stakeholders in an open forum at Corbett Center Student Union on Friday, the last of five chancellor candidates to do so. She said her experience and dedication to the state of New Mexico are what set her apart from the other candidates.
“I bring a multifaceted approach,” Damron said. “And I have a higher education background. I’ve served as staff, I’ve served as faculty and I’ve served as an administrator.”
Damron brings with her a résumé that includes positions in the private sector as a nurse, in the state legislature and the United States Senate and in higher education with her current position as cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Higher Education Department, among others.
This, Damron said, is why she is the perfect person for the job, adding that as the sitting cabinet secretary she has experience in advocating for higher education, and in fact has her “pulse on all things higher ed in the state.”
Enrollment and retention
NMSU’s has seen a decline in enrollment and retention, which has led to funding issues and staff cuts. Damron said these are two things that need immediate attention at the university and she plans to jump on in with a plan if selected as chancellor
Damron said she would take a three-pronged approach to addressing the issue starting with visiting the state’s high schools herself to help create a pipeline between high school students and NMSU. Damron said that, as cabinet secretary, high schools tell her their students never see the face of a president of a university. She would change that.
“I need to be out there and recruiting those students to this amazing university that’s here,” Damron said.
Damron added that she would also increase active recruiting to neighboring states who have more students than they can accept.
Third, Damron wants to see NMSU open its arms to adult learners, including military veterans and those who have taken a few courses but have not received a degree.
“We need to change how we approach those,” Damron said. “Let’s give credit for prior learning, let’s do competency-based education, let’s make our schedules fit for their needs.
“There’s a whole group we have not done a good job statewide at attracting.”
Damron said she feels confident the university can turn around its numbers in enrollment and retention adding, “I see (NMSU) as the pre-eminent university not only in the state but in the region and of all the land-grant universities, because we are a unique land-grant university.”
Emphasis on research
Damron also said she believes in investing in strong research enterprises and said she would focus on building a research infrastructure.
“I recognize the cuts you’ve been through, but there are some cases where we need to put more resources into where we want to grow and research is one,” Damron said.
The infrastructure would include having adequate staffing, whether grant money is coming in or not, Damron said. She added that she understands it’s a risk, but that by going to donors, asking for money and time, NMSU would be able get a return on their investment.
Once an infrastructure is established, Damron said, administration would need to create an enthused culture among faculty which in turns brings in students excited to learn.
“Success breeds success,” Damron said. “And successful research entities grow on that, they breed on that.”
A love for New Mexico
Damron grew up in New Orleans and studied in Nebraska and Texas, but claims herself a New Mexican, saying that she and her husband have lived in the state for decades and have no intention of leaving.
She added that she is dedicated to New Mexico and is excited about taking the knowledge she has to work where the state needs her most.
“I’m from New Mexico … I love it here, I’m staying here, I’m not looking anywhere else, I’m not going anywhere else,” Damron said.
Damron said she was most attracted to the position by the unique qualities NMSU holds including its location, its position as a university system with four other community college locations that feed into it and its work in serving Hispanic and Native American communities.
“I feel like NMSU is calling me, I am called to it,” Damron said. “I love this institution. I think it’s amazing, and I can say that, because I’ve been to every single higher education institution in the state multiple times.”
Damron was a candidate for the recent presidential opening at the University of New Mexico, though she was not among the finalists, the Albuquerque Journal reported.