The coronavirus pandemic has been an unprecedented crisis for all of us. Unlike typical emergencies, we had time to prepare. If this were a tsunami, it would be traveling at the pace of a stroll rather than a wave. This time allowed us a few moments to think, prepare and ensure that our response aligned with our core principles: to protect the health and safety of the NMSU community and to maintain academic progress for our students. We had another advantage in developing a response, and that was our institutional commitment to NMSU LEADS 2025. In Provost Carol Parker’s words, “The nearly two years NMSU spent developing and implementing a strong strategic plan, NMSU LEADS 2025, were critically important in getting NMSU to be well-positioned to respond to threats and challenges like those we are facing now.”
A recent conversation with the goal team leaders for NMSU LEADS 2025 allowed us to look at the pandemic through the lens of NMSU LEADS 2025. Here is what we found.
Goal 1: Enhance Student Success and Social Mobility
As NMSU transformed education to distance delivery, we knew that for students to persist through the semester we had to make it as easy as possible for them to connect to campus. Canvas and Zoom facilitated the delivery of academic content, and services like tutoring, financial aid, advising and the Aggie Health and Wellness Center moved online before classes resumed March 30. Strategic investments in student success gave us access to crucial information, like which students might have difficulty maintaining that electronic connectivity. Additional investments have targeted the recruitment of adult-learners in our region, which should help to mitigate the expected drop in international graduate enrollment resulting from the COVID-19 visa restrictions. These investments would not have been possible had we not, as an institution, reaffirmed the importance of student success through NMSU LEADS 2025. This goal is led by Renay Scott, vice president for Student Success, and Luis Cifuentes, vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School.
Goal 2: Elevate Research and Creativity
Over the past year, we have honed our understanding of NMSU strategic research interests and are now in a better position to promote our strengths in a way that emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration. This understanding allowed us to quickly develop ideas for potential projects as state and federal governments look to increase research into pandemic responses. In addition, working remotely has demonstrated our flexibility regarding time and location, which is key to improving outcomes in research, scholarship and creativity at NMSU. Our institutional response to COVID-19 has demonstrated that effective teaching, learning, research and service is not limited by being off campus for periods of time. This goal is led by Luis Cifuentes, vice president for research and Kathy Hansen, director of Arrowhead Center.
Goal 3: Amplify Extension and Outreach
COVID-19 has challenged our idea that extension, outreach and service are solely face-to-face activities. The Cooperative Extension Service quickly innovated programming and curriculum to meet the needs of individuals, families and communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. We pushed it out to our communities through distance delivery tools that reach increasingly diverse areas and audiences we have never reached before. Students unable to attend schools might encounter some of the NMSU Extension curriculum, and they might access that curriculum through Wi-Fi networks at Extension offices and Agricultural Science Centers throughout the state. This access helps build that pipeline to higher education that is so important to New Mexico.
Just as the Cooperative Extension Service has increased outreach across the state, so has the rest of the university. Before the pandemic, one of the biggest challenges facing the Goal 3 team was to effectively document the depth and breadth of outreach and service that NMSU provides to our state. Meeting that challenge will be one of our primary activities in the future. This goal is led by Jon Boren, associate dean and director of the Cooperative Extension Service, and Wayne Savage, executive director of Arrowhead Park.
Goal 4: Build a Robust University System
Goal 4 has always been viewed as foundational to achieving Goals 1 through 3, and our work to increase the efficiency of NMSU has greatly improved our ability to manage through this crisis. For example, NMSU began adopting the Zoom videoconferencing system in January, and we were working through telework protocols before the pandemic hit. We have been improving processes, including hiring, reducing other administrative burdens, and implementing low- or no-cost solutions to known problems. This goal is led by Andy Burke, senior vice president for Administration and Finance, and Ruth Johnston, vice chancellor.
The strategic conversation that we began nearly two years ago defined who we want to be as an institution and resulted in NMSU LEADS 2025. That conversation has allowed us to act with confidence because we know that we are unified in our vision for New Mexico State University. Even as we plan for the worst, we hope for the best. I acknowledge that hope is not a strategy, but only with hope can you imagine strategies that will allow you to shape the future.
Be bold, be kind, be safe.