Top-rated schools, colleges ensure the region’s industries have access to talent.
New Mexico has long held a reputation for developing and attracting some of the nation’s top talent, and with nearly 70% of residents having at least some college experience, Rio Rancho and Sandoval County are no exception.
The region’s talent base is richly diverse, highly skilled and deep – thanks in large part to top-ranked schools and community colleges and access to the state’s flagship research institution, the University of New Mexico.
Rooted in STEM
With four school districts, Sandoval County boasts some of the best schools in the state. In fact, three of the high schools in Rio Rancho Public Schools – Rio Rancho and V. Sue Cleveland high schools and Rio Rancho Cyber Academy – reside on the U.S. News & World Report list of Best High Schools, placing in the top 15 schools in the state.
The county’s schools have invested heavily in technology and STEM-related programs to help prepare students for careers in the region’s growing high-tech industries.
The ASK Academy, a grade 6 through 12 charter school in Rio Rancho, ranked No. 10 on the U.S. News & World Report list. ASK Academy focuses its curriculum on science and technology, steering students toward biomedical sciences, engineering and design career pathways.
In designing its curriculum, the academy conducted market research and studied projections for job offerings for the next 20 years.
“On the engineering side, we have national laboratories and high-tech firms, such as Intel, that will be looking for engineers and designers,â€ says Paul Stephenson, ASK Academy co-founder and director of engineering and design career pathways.
Stephenson says the academy prepares students for those future jobs by partnering with STEM-related companies to offer students hands-on learning opportunities.
“We have an intern program for our juniors and seniors that allows them to earn high school credit while also getting on-the-job training. Our students are working in hospitals, laboratories, and engineering and design firms. The learning they receive from those types of STEM, real-world experiences is just invaluable,â€ Stephenson says.
The work is paying off. A recent census of academy alumni show graduates who are “mechanical engineers, science technicians and graduates with neuroscience degrees. We’ve got a pretty impressive list. Now, would they have done that without us being around? I don’t know, but I’d like to think that many of them are successful because of the career choice shaping experiences we provide for these learners,â€ he says.
A Matter of Degrees
The school also offers dual enrollment college credit for Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) and the University of New Mexico – both of which have campuses in Sandoval County – and offers a pipeline for the institutions’ science and engineering programs.
As the state’s largest institution of higher education in terms of undergraduate enrollment, CNM has a well-earned reputation for being responsive to the workforce needs of local business and industry. CNM offers associate degrees, certificates and training programs in more than 200 subjects – from biotechnology and nursing to computer science and teacher education.
Ready for Workers
“Whenever an industry or business here in New Mexico is growing and needs more skilled workers, or whenever a large business is considering a relocation to New Mexico that would require workforce support, CNM is relied upon heavily to ramp up current programs or create new ones to deliver the workforce needed,â€ says Samantha Sengel, vice president of advancement and enrollment strategy at the college.
College officials meet regularly with business and industry leaders to stay informed and ensure CNM is constantly adjusting its curriculum and adding new programs, when necessary, to provide students with clear pathways to high-demand jobs.
“All of our programs have advisory committees that consist of local business and industry representatives. They help us ensure that our programs are teaching students the skills they need to be successful in the workplace,â€ Sengel says. “If a program has become outdated and there are not sufficient jobs available in the area, we regularly eliminate programs. And on the flip side, if there’s a new demand for specific skills in the economy, we will quickly create new programs to meet the need.”