It was standing room only in the Jemez Room of Santa Fe Community College on Oct. 29 as the five candidates for SFCC board positions met for the last time before Tuesday’s election.
Most of the people attending the forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters appeared to be students or SFCC employees who have a direct stake in the outcome of the election.
There are two candidates for Position 3: Ruth Howes, a retired physics professor, and Jody Pugh, a scientist and manager for the U.S. Department of Energy at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Three candidates are vying for Position 5: Miguel Acosta, an educator and community organizer; David Dannenberg, a tech entrepreneur whose latest online venture is designed to promote civic engagement; and Piér Quintana, who works for St. John’s College in Santa Fe.
Nearly all the candidates were in agreement that SFCC needs to align its curriculum with the needs of employers as technology continues to transform the workplace. In a statement on the League of Women Voters website, Pugh noted, “With changing technology, we will have serious shortfalls in trained workers and SFCC can lead the region in filling them.”
Citing Los Alamos National Laboratory’s plans to step up hiring, Pugh called for mentorships and apprenticeships to prepare students who want to work at the national lab.
At the forum, all the candidates applauded the faculty’s decision to unionize in March 2017 and this spring’s collective bargaining agreement between the school and the union, known as SFCC-AAUP (American Association of University Professors).
At least two candidates – Acosta and Dannenberg – called on the state legislature to change rules that make it financially unattractive for some retired city and state employees to teach at the college.
All of the candidates were in agreement that SFCC could do a better job of serving Spanish-speaking students, with Acosta calling for majors in Latino, Native and women’s studies.
In an interview, Howes, who spent 32 years as a professor at Ball State University in Indiana before serving as chair of the physics department at Marquette University in Milwaukee, said SFCC needs to do a better job of attracting and retaining Spanish-speaking males. In order to do that, she proposes setting aside a room where male Spanish speakers can gather to talk and study in a setting where they feel supported.
Asked whether that would discriminate against female Spanish speakers, Howes recalled she was excluded from study sessions for physics majors when she was a graduate student because the venue was in a male dorm that she wasn’t allowed to enter. “I survived,” said Howes, who has been a volunteer math tutor at SFCC for the past six years.
While many Hispanic students are bilingual, their parents and grandparents, as well as their aunts and uncles, may not speak both English and Spanish, Howes noted. She and her opponent, Pugh, both called for greater outreach to the immigrant community.
Quintana suggested that SFCC board meetings could be held “in other communities” and that literature should be available in Spanish.
During the forum, Acosta noted that immigrants are already on campus as employees, but must be welcomed into the classroom. As a community organizer with Earthcare, a nonprofit that builds youth leadership skills, Acosta sees education as a way to improve equity in society and to redress past wrongs against minority populations.
“The biggest challenge (facing SFCC) is becoming the institution to transform the community and to address historic inequity in our community,” he said in an interview. Acosta said he did the coursework at University of New Mexico for a master’s degree in community and regional planning, but didn’t do the required final project to earn the degree.
Acosta’s opponent Dannenberg, a former Intel Corp. employee, is also involved in promoting civic engagement through his role as CEO of xformgov.org. The software platform for community organizing grew out of work that Dannenberg did for the County of Santa Fe to encourage public outreach.
In an interview, Dannenberg said he was the only candidate at the Oct. 29 forum “with a real platform.” His agenda calls for using SFCC and its curriculum as a magnet to attract high-paying industry to Santa Fe, including software, clean manufacturing and renewables. Right now, the local economy is driven by tourism, which traditionally has low-paying jobs, Dannenberg said.
He sees existing SFCC programs, such as biofuels research and energy innovation, as a starting point for the kind of catalyst he envisions.
Quintana cited the uniqueness of New Mexico’s tourism, arts and outdoor recreation sectors, and cautioned against trying to mimic the success of other states. “We’re New Mexico. We don’t need to copy other economies,” she said.
Both Dannenberg and Acosta are fans of dual-credit programs that allow students at The Master Program charter school, as well as Santa Fe and Capital high schools to earn SFCC credits while they are in high school. Dannenberg thinks dual-credit programs could be expanded to other high schools in the area.
Acosta noted in an interview that in other countries, such as England and Germany, students can effectively finish high school at 16, depending on whether they want to attend university. The candidate, who spent 30 years in higher education, argues that it’s a waste of time to require students to attend high school for four years in order to graduate, particularly if their career path is aimed at a trade.
All the candidates agreed that SFCC could make it easier for its graduates to transfer to four-year colleges besides those in New Mexico. Quintana sees the spread of meta majors and common course numbering as ways to facilitate the transition.
In her statement to the League of Women Voters, Quintana said, “I want to represent and advocate for my community. I was born and raised in rural New Mexico, and through my personal and professional experiences, I know the challenges our students face, the strength that make them unique, and solutions that support their success.”
Neither Pugh nor Quintana responded to Journal North’s interview requests.