Writer: Dana Beasley and Adriana Chavez
New Mexico State University will present two employees and two students with Distinguished Community Engagement Awards at the spring convocation ceremony Tuesday, Jan. 19, for their demonstrated efforts to better New Mexico communities through partnerships and volunteer work.
Lois Stanford, an associate professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, will be awarded the 2016 Community Engagement Faculty Award, with Denise Rodriguez-Strawn, director of Service Learning for Educational Distinction, or SLED, in the College of Education, receiving the Community Engagement Staff Award.
The students receiving community engagement scholarships are Courtney Gavin, a business and biology double major, and Kristen Sprouse, who is majoring in education. Each student and employee will receive an award of $500.
Kevin Boberg, vice president for economic development, co-chairs NMSU’s Community Engagement Council along with Cooperative Extension Service Director Jon Boren. Boberg said it was evident from the applications the council received that the awardees – and all of the applicants – were passionate about the projects and partnerships they were involved with.
“You could see, not only in what they accomplished, but in how they described it, that these projects were of great importance to them,” Boberg said. “Community engagement is fundamental to transforming NMSU to a 21st century university. It cannot be achieved by the institution, but instead by the people working and going to school here.”
Stanford is a cultural anthropologist, with focuses on agricultural anthropology, globalization, food studies and community development in Mexico and New Mexico.
In an effort to conserve food traditions and improve food security, Stanford serves the area as president of the board of directors for La Semilla Food Center, a non-profit organization founded by some of her former students. La Semilla, with its 14-acre education and demonstration farm, aims to foster a sustainable and self-reliant food system in southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.
“This is an area with a really rich agricultural history, and now most of our food comes from someplace else,” Stanford said. “So part of the work that I’ve done with the students, and the organizations I’ve worked with, is to revive this link between culture and food, and to look more closely at the role food plays in our lives – culturally, socially, through meals, through our interactions with people.”
Stanford provides lectures, teaches in some of the youth programs, helps write grant proposals and assists the center in its efforts to work with different community organizations.
In partnership with NMSU’s College of Agriculture, Stanford is also investigating the conservation and revival of traditional Navajo gardening along the San Juan River, and has begun a collaborative project with Albuquerque’s Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute’s culinary program.
As the faculty award winner, Stanford will be considered to represent NMSU for the C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award, a national award presented by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.
Rodriguez-Strawn said she was “floored” and wept when she learned she was receiving her award, but will be accepting it on behalf of her SLED students, who often don’t get the recognition they deserve.
“I will accept this award on the behalf of our over 2,000 students who have done this, because I feel like this is their award and they earned this,” Rodriguez-Strawn said. “That’s why I’m so proud and so emotional about this. I feel like their hard work has finally paid off and they’re going to be recognized for what they’ve done.”
Rodriguez-Strawn received her master’s degree from NMSU in 2009, and will be applying for her doctoral degree from NMSU in the fall. In 2007, Rodriguez-Strawn started in service learning as a graduate assistant and coordinator of service learning.
“After a year of doing this, I just kind of fell in love with the idea of being able to take a lot of negative experiences and make them positive, and get our students out into the community and start really focusing on outreach,” said Rodriguez-Strawn, who grew up in Pleasant Grove, Texas, a neighborhood east of Dallas once known for its high crime rate.
Rodriguez-Strawn said she strives to establish personal connections with students and provide them with meaningful experiences they will carry for the rest of their lives, no matter what their background and social status is.
“We really want students to understand that they’re responsible to go out into the community, whether they stay here in Las Cruces or go elsewhere,” Rodriguez-Strawn said. “We want them to think they have an obligation to pay it forward, especially for those of us who are first-generation students like myself, who are minorities in this particular state and come from meager means.”
The students receiving the award were selected from among all Scholar Dollar$ scholarship applicants for the 2015-16 academic year based on their community engagement activities.
Gavin has volunteered with a number of organizations, including El Caldito Soup Kitchen and the NMSU Student Accessibility Center, for past three years as an undergraduate student.
“Over the holidays, I started to look at expenses for the coming year when I start pharmacy school and I realized how expensive the next four years are going to be,” Gavin said. “Receiving this scholarship helps defray the costs.
“I feel that participation in the community is important because many programs cannot exist without volunteer help,” Gavin continued. “It also helps shape people into who they will become and it’s an amazing feeling being able to give back to a community that has given me so much already. ”
Sprouse said community engagement has always been a huge part of her life since her early years in high school.
“I have made an effort to participate and give back in my community as much as possible. From helping with Vacation Bible Study to tutoring to the Big Event, community engagement has always been a part of who I am,” Sprouse said. “I am so thankful to have the opportunity to help others and I do so in any way I can.”
Sprouse also said she is grateful to be a recipient of the community engagement scholarship, which will help ease her financial burden paying for school.
“I never expected to receive a scholarship because of my involvement in the community,” Sprouse said. “Not only will this scholarship help me financially and help ease my time in school, it also shows me that hard work can pay off, even when you least expect it.”
NMSU is one of 361 colleges and universities nationwide – and the only one in New Mexico – to carry the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, and one of 47 public institutions receiving it for the first time in 2015.
© 2013 New Mexico State University Board of Regents
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