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One-on-One with Patricia Marquez Knighten – director of Innovation Commercialization, NMSU’s Arrowhead Center

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Thirty different addresses in her first 32 years of life kept Patricia Marquez Knighten and her family “agile and mutable.”

The daughter of a well-known Air Force lieutenant general, Knighten and her four siblings got used to traversing the country as their father gave them pep talks about the virtues of each new location.

Patricia Marquez Knighten (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

“My dad had a lot of charisma, so he could really band us into loving where we were going, no matter what,” Knighten says. “And that becomes a little more critical when you’re living in northern California and doing very cool California things, and he’s trying to get you to middle Georgia. And be excited about it.”

The grown-up Knighten has left all that wandering behind.

The same Four Hills home has been her headquarters for the past 30 years, despite career moves and the job she started in January – director of Innovation Commercialization at New Mexico State University’s Arrowhead Center. The center is in charge of marketing NMSU research to a global market.

Four Hills, at the far southeastern edge of Albuquerque, has been her treasured home base for the last 30 years, with access to hiking trails and space to run with her now-deceased Airedales. (“That is not a trivial dog,” she says.)

Knighten has worked in the private and public sector, including small businesses, high-tech start-ups, Fortune 500 companies, federal research laboratories and government agencies.

Her first love was the aerospace field, born from the influence of her father, Lt. Gen. Leo Marquez, who rose to become the Air Force’s highest-ranking Hispanic officer.

“He engaged us as children, going to work with him on Saturdays, getting around airplanes,” Knighten says. “Even the smell of a hangar brings back really fond and fun memories.”

Although Knighten first focused on engineering and technology, she quickly learned she was “not suited to sitting behind a desk doing engineering work” and decided to combine her technical know-how with business development skills.

“I can very quickly … build rapport with the technical team,” Knighten says. “But I also keep in mind very strongly that the entity they’re working for has revenue and business goals, and I try to build the two of those and figure out the strategy to get there.”

What do you do in your free time?

“I feel that every day, I must get outdoors, and that’s just whether it’s a 30-minute walk in the quiet night around my neighborhood or a sunset hike in the foothills or a bike ride. I’ve got to be outdoors to feel good, at least for 20 or 30 minutes a day. I feel deprived if I can’t have that. So I’m pretty easy to please. I don’t have great ambitions to explore the world, particularly, so I’m entertained with home projects and bike rides.”

What was your first job?

“When I moved to California, I was just turning 15, and I was in high school. I really thought the idea of making money was important – to a large degree, just because I was a teenager who wanted that kind of shoes and my father would look at me like, ‘No, I’m not paying that kind of money for that shoe.’ It was the life of living on a constrained single-family income, and it was very funny. My dad was from a farm. And then, of course, my mother could look like a queen in a $10 dress. She just had that. Anyway, I wasn’t old enough to get a legitimate job, so I took over an Avon route for a lady who had a route of 300 houses. Does this date me?”

What has been a difficulty in your life and how have you dealt with it?

“I always shout out and admire military families and spouses. They face challenges that are invisible to many people. To be different, to be new in a place, was a challenge I faced early in life, and I think it was easily overcome with friendliness and mutability. I could quickly develop rapport – so much that I got a southern accent after living in Alabama. Coming back to New Mexico, my grandfather wanted me to speak Spanish, and I didn’t. Calling him ‘granddaddy’ and saying, ‘Y’all’ was a little hard on him. And then, too, professionally, I think that my education happened outside of school to a large degree, and I feel sometimes that I’ve had to work hard to overcome my lack of a great education. So when you’re changing schools every year, there are new requirements. I studied the Civil War something like five times. I never pursued a master’s degree or a doctorate, and I’m very interested in doing both of those things still, late in life, in some way or another.”

Do you have any hidden talents?

“You know, a strange thing: I like hard physical labor. I started an experiment when I was really tightening my budget. A job had changed, we were trying to pay some debts and rather than pay the big bucks for a gym membership, I tried to move my exercise routine at home. And then I started thinking that if I’m going to get a bunch of rocks for my yard project, how can I do this faster than carrying home a rock? So I modified an old mountain bike with giant baskets to go collect rocks, and I literally had a calculation that was like, ‘OK, I could spend half an hour commuting, an hour at the gym and a half an hour (driving) home, or I could take that two hours and take a mountain bike out to the arroyo, which is right here and fill it with rocks and come home and probably get at least that much exercise.’ Physical labor is a great thing.”

How do you hope to make your mark in the world?

“Arrowhead and NMSU offer a new playground for me to try to make an impact. I love what it’s about. I really do get the urban-rural, the wealth and poverty, all the dichotomies to me are great intersections for NMSU to make a mark. The chancellor and the administration … have some aggressive goals, and so where I can fit in and help some of those things happen is a big objective of mine. On a personal level, I really just have ambitions of continuing to watch my daughter’s life evolve and continue to grow closer with my friends and family.”

What makes you laugh?

“Airedales. They are a total cartoon. They have very funny faces. I laugh at myself. I take things too seriously sometimes, so I have to laugh. That’s medicine for me. I think that smiles and laughter can really be momentous.”

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