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NMSU Digital Pathways program helps Nambe Pueblo resident reach goal

NAMBE PUEBLO - Jovanna Romero is on the path to her dream thanks to New Mexico State University's distance education program - Digital Pathways.



NMSU Digital Pathways client Jovanna Romero is participating in the university's two-plus-two distance education program to obtain a bachelor's degree in business administration while living at her Nambe Pueblo home in northern New Mexico. (NMSU Photo)

With an associate degree from the Southwest Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) in hand, Romero will be attending NMSU classes via the Internet WebCT in September while raising her three-year-old son, Ayden, from their home in Nambe. She has set her sight on a bachelor's degree in business administration and accounting and now knows it is possible through the NMSU program.

"So many Native women living on the reservation and raising children feel they can't continue their education because they will have to leave their home and family," said Kimberly Sisneros-Othole, Digital Pathways mentor and higher education advisor with the Eight Northern Indian Pueblo Council. "Jovanna is a role model that a person's education doesn't have to end when they have children."

Two years ago, Romero knew she wanted to continue her education but did not know how she would accomplish it while raising her son. She had already sacrificed living in her native community during high school to attend Cushing Academy, a boarding school in Ashburnham, Mass., where she graduated in 2003.

"I really appreciate my family's presence since I was away from them my junior and senior year of high school. I also knew, as a single mom, I needed their help raising my son," Romero said. "But I didn't know how I was going to reach my dream and be able to live near my family."

Through the counseling of Sisneros-Othole, the Nambe Pueblo native found the SIPI program to begin her quest for a college degree.

"At first it looked like she would go to Northern New Mexico Community College and stay at home, then I told her about the various free programs offered at SIPI," said Sisneros-Othole.

Because SIPI is a Bureau of Indian Affairs tribal college, Native American students receive a free education, including many services, such as childcare and meals accessed by Romero.

After attending two years at SIPI, Romero completed the requirements of an associate degree in business administration in May. Along the way she learned about NMSU's Digital Pathways program and decided it would be the next step in her education.

Digital Pathways brings NMSU's distance education degree programs to New Mexico's Native American communities. It is a partnership with Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, NMSU, SIPI and New Mexico Tribal Higher Education Commission that connects non-traditional students with a higher education at NMSU.

"The key to this program's success is the mentoring we give each student. Without a mentor, students may find themselves lost in the education system. I've seen students take courses that didn't apply to an overall degree program, as a result, financial aid assistance and the time it took to obtain a degree became out of reach for students," said Sisneros-Othole of the help and encouragement the Digital Pathways Team contributes.

"As mentors, we provide academic advisement, scholarship research assistance, education plan management, and guidance and support for our students. It becomes a trust relationship as we are planning the next five to ten years of our student's life, depending on their educational goals."

Beginning in August, Romero will participate in NMSU's two-plus-two program that allows students to earn degrees at two-year institutions and complete their baccalaureate work at NMSU through distance education. This seamless transition for students with an associate degree allows the student to earn a bachelor's degree in 18 months. Students access NMSU classes through the Internet by WebCT, video conferencing and Centra - live lecturers via the Internet.

"I took two SIPI business classes through the Internet WebCT last semester," said Romero, who earned a 3.25 grade point average while at SIPI. "I found that I liked taking classes from home, it gave me more flexibility in planning my day to address the many task of raising a child."

WebCT is an on-line interaction with the course teacher that includes video streaming of the class lectures. The course may be accessed anytime during the day, which allows the student the option of scheduling the class at a convenient time for them.

"The combination of the two-plus-two program and Digital Pathways brings the university to the pueblos," said Sisneros-Othole. "It opens the door for many non-traditional students, such as Jovanna, to further their education and build a foundation for a better economical life."