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NM higher ed can help Spaceport careers take off

Virgin Galactic Mothership VMS Eve takes off from the Spaceport America in Upham during testing on Aug. 15, 2019. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Virgin Galactic Mothership VMS Eve takes off from the Spaceport America in Upham during testing on Aug. 15, 2019. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The story of the education-to-career opportunity afforded by continued investment in Spaceport America cannot be overstated.

At the Department of Higher Education, we are very in tune with the changing needs of the workforce and are constantly striving with higher education institutions, regional partners and employers to meet those needs.

Recently, when Virgin Atlantic announced its expanded home operations at Spaceport America, Lexy Snell shared her story of just how real and important the work of connecting the dots throughout our institutions is. Lexy’s story is truly that of the American dream and a big way in which New Mexicans have the chance to experience a similar story of success.

Lexy now works for Virgin Galactic and was part of the team that put its Unity rocket into space this year. She did not start out knowing that was her path, moving frequently as a child, as so many New Mexicans experience. She eventually found her way to Central New Mexico Community College’s aviation tech program, where she became the second woman to graduate from the program. Now, she is part of a team making history at Spaceport America.

Lexy’s story is one we can repeatedly see in New Mexico as more and more companies make their home at Spaceport America.

And we as a state must continue to capitalize on this opportunity.

Working with New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico, we recently created a new Ph.D. program in geography, as we recognize the changing climate and the need to be able to better address firefighting with deeper and broader GIS and GPS knowledge.

Imagine a collaboration between students in this program and companies housed at the Spaceport, looking at innovative delivery systems for fire retardant to help us more quickly and safely address the impacts of wildfires.

STEM degrees in higher education are most successful when students have already developed a curiosity that makes them want to pursue careers in STEM fields. Spaceport America staff regularly conduct STEM road trips across the state to engage middle school students and teach them about the ever-growing aerospace industry. These initiatives and partnerships, combined with the monumental work being done at Spaceport America, provide unmatched opportunity for New Mexico students.

In order for our state to reach full potential and to provide the brightest possible future for our students, we must capitalize on what we have. In New Mexico, we have unlimited potential in STEM and aerospace-related fields, in no small part due to Spaceport America and our institutions of higher education, and we must continue our support in order to foster these opportunities.

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