Accelerating success at UNM-Taos

Re-printed with permission; originally published in the UNM-Taos Report on September 14, 2015

The UNM-Taos Accelerate Program, which is funded by a grant from the Department of Energy, is one of the programs I like to check in on every once in a while, because it embodies many of the best practices we try to employ in all our program and course offerings. While Accelerate starts with students who are statistically less likely to succeed in college, the results of in-depth support can be substantial. They just finished what they call their Summer Math Experience, an eight-week intensive, so I asked Avelina Martinez, who has been running the program for the last three years, to give us an update.

“Our students meet the demographic markers Accelerate has laid out: they are non-traditional, minority, first generation college students. The program is unique in the sense that we use an online curriculum so that students are able to go at their own pace, but we supplement that with two in-class instructors and a tutor,” Martinez said. “This summer, our students as a group logged over 200 hours of tutoring outside class, and I’m proud to say that one hundred percent of our students passed the summer program and will be continuing at UNM-Taos in the fall. When you compare that to other classes that don’t have that extra support, it’s a real victory over the math phobia that so many students have.

“We work with our students holistically. We try to determine what their career goal is, and then work backward from there to identify which academic program will help them get to that goal. That way we can lay out a really clear career path, and once a student is engaged with their education, they start to realize that they can actually attain that goal, and that it fits into the bigger picture of their life.

“Our first generation students are often not really familiar with the verbiage and culture of higher education. It’s new, it’s intimidating, and it’s a big financial commitment to take on. When you have financial and time commitments competing with basic needs and family, it can be really intimidating.

“But by being able to sit down with a student and really listen to what career goals they have, and align those with the right program, we start to see a lot of success in terms of graduations. That, in turn, helps our numbers at UNM-Taos and emphasizes the importance of having a community college with acceptable tuition and classes close to home. It then becomes practical for students to attend, and the impact on our community is a lasting one.

“For example, I had a non-traditional student, a single father, who came in and he wasn’t really sure that this was the place for him, but he did really well in his classes and we encouraged him to stay. Now he’s making efforts to enroll his child into early childhood programs, and I can see that, by him finding a place at UNM-Taos and knowing that he has a career goal that is attainable—it’s not just a dream—he not only sees the value of education in his own life, but he is also going to support his daughter in getting the education she needs in her life.”

I commented that this is the way our whole society can change with gradual improvement from one generation to the next, and Martinez said, “Right. Education just makes our communities healthier.”

The UNM-Taos Fall Semester begins August 17, and more than 800 of your friends and neighbors have already enrolled. You can reach the Enrollment Office by calling 575 737-6215, or you can walk in without an appointment any Wednesday. On August 11 the Student Affairs Department will be open until 7pm on the Klauer campus to help those who can’t come in during regular business hours.