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New Mexico: Where Education Fuels Innovation

State's colleges and universities also keep a pipeline of talent flowing to in-demand industries.

By Teree Caruthers on November 17, 2021

New Mexico State University’s Department of Astronomy
New Mexico State University

The availability of a skilled workforce is vital to New Mexico’s growing economy.

Fortunately, colleges and universities in New Mexico offer a wealth of higher education resources that provide businesses with a steady stream of top talent and research heft that drives innovation and economic development.

Higher Education in New Mexico

New Mexico’s three major research universities, four comprehensive four-year institutions and seven independent community colleges work together to provide access to lifelong learning opportunities and connect industry with a professional, qualified labor force.

Nursing Program Shines in New Mexico

With its main campus in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and satellite centers in Santa Rosa, Springer and Mora, Luna Community College (LCC) offers certificate and degree programs in several in-demand fields, including STEM, early childhood education, building technology, criminal justice and nursing.

The nursing program, in particular, has had a significant impact on the workforce as the need for skilled health care workers surged due to the pandemic. The program prepares graduates to immediately enter the medical field, and some students, such as Marissa Archuleta, have gone on to pursue advanced degrees.

“I enjoyed my experience very much, and I do not believe I would have had the moral support that LCC provided me with elsewhere,” says Archuleta, a 2019 LCC graduate who received her bachelor’s degree from The University of New Mexico and is pursuing her doctorate in nursing at New Mexico State University.

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Luna Community College

“I enjoyed having good relationships with my mentors and instructors who really pushed me to my limits because they believed what I was capable of becoming.”

Marissa Archuleta

Archuleta says LCC offered her many of the academic advantages of a large four-year university but with the convenience, affordability and community of a smaller college.

“Attending a large university or college far away from home is not the only way to achieve success in your life,” she says. “The avenues and paths I took to becoming a future nurse practitioner came from the trust I had in LCC to provide me with a firm foundation in my education. I had to take the same national board-certified test to become an RN that students at other top colleges and universities took, so that itself shows the high level of education that LCC can provide to students.”

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Revolutionizing the Workforce in New Mexico

The state’s universities support the workforce not only through transfer of talent but also through research and new business development. Together, The University of New Mexico, New Mexico State and New Mexico Tech account for more than $350 million in research expenditures, which helps create new businesses and attract top talent.

New Mexico Tech’s Office of Innovation Commercialization, for example, helps students and faculty translate their research into market-ready products and services. Every graduating senior in the engineering program completes a “capstone” project and is paired with an industry mentor.

The University of New Mexico’s Rainforest Innovations, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit organization, acts as a liaison between the university’s research community and the private sector, providing support for startups and helping researchers ready their ideas for market.

“Rainforest Innovations is how we transfer the research results to the community and help start new companies. That results in jobs being created,” says Lisa Kuuttila, president and chief economic development officer for UNM Rainforest Innovations.

More than 65 companies now active in New Mexico got their start based on UNM technology, and the university spins out eight to 10 companies every year based on faculty research, Kuuttila says.

“This could be anything from a new material to a new instrumentation. We’ve even spun out companies that develop therapeutics to treat cancer and other diseases,” she says. “We have the richest set of science and technology assets in the country on a per capita basis, and over the last 10 years, we’ve really strengthened our entrepreneurial ecosystem. That makes us an attractive place for entrepreneurs and remote workers as well as larger companies who want to be in an environment where they might be able to partner with a new, innovative startup.”

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