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NMSU's Montoya balances administrative responsibilities, creative passions

"Not college material." New Mexico State University's vice president for student affairs and enrollment management wouldn't be where she is today if she had listened to her high school counselor's pronouncement back in the 1980s.


Woman with pistol back-to-back with NMSU cowboy mascot
Bernadette Montoya, NMSU vice president for student affairs and enrollment management, poses with NMSU mascot Pistol Pete at the Aggie BBQ, part of Aggie Welcome and Orientation 2011. (Courtesy photo)

Bernadette Montoya, NMSU vice president for student affairs and enrollment management. (NMSU photo by Harrison Brooks)

Bernadette Montoya, NMSU vice president for student affairs and enrollment management (right), shares a laugh with husband Randall (left) and ACES Dean Lowell Catlett at the Leyendecker Plant Science Center Centennial Field Day on Aug. 25. (NMSU photo by Jay A. Rodman)

"Luckily, New Mexico State University had a community college in my community - the Grants campus," Bernadette Montoya said. "I enrolled there my first semester not knowing what to expect. I was in developmental mathematics, and lo and behold, I loved it. And I did really well and decided that I was going to be a teacher."

Montoya got her associate degree in Grants, came to Las Cruces for her bachelor's, and then moved back to Grants, where she taught elementary school for a few years. She came back to NMSU for a master's, returned to grade school teaching in Grants, and then got a job as an academic adviser at the NMSU Grants campus.

After holding a number of positions at the Grants campus, earning a doctorate at the University of New Mexico, and serving as campus student service officer at Dona Ana Community College, she moved over to the NMSU Las Cruces campus to become assistant vice president for enrollment management.

In May 2011, she was selected for the vice president position in the newly named Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.

"One of the many reasons that I choose to serve here is because of what this university has meant to me and what it has done for me, not only on a personal level but also on a professional level," she said.

In her current role, she oversees a staff of about 250, supported by a crew of more than 300 students. They serve the entire NMSU system, which includes the community colleges in Alamogordo, Carlsbad, Grants and Las Cruces, as well as the NMSU Albuquerque Center.

"I think it's really important for students to know that they have options," she said. "There was a point in my life when I didn't think I did, and I like to help students and families find success here at the university. I like to build hope in them, to give them something to look forward to, and to find ways to help motivate them."

The units that report to her include university admissions, financial aid and the university registrar. She is also the direct supervisor of the dean of students, the executive director of university wellness, the assistant vice president for student engagement and the assistant vice president for student diversity and outreach.

The work she and her colleagues do includes recruiting and admitting students; getting them registered and administering their financial aid; keeping them in school, engaged, healthy and planning for future careers; and getting them graduated, keeping their records and providing transcripts for as long as they need them.

A few examples of the magnitude of the tasks her division performs annually are the 9,000 undergraduate applications they process, the $200 million in financial aid they award and the 35,000 transcript requests they receive.

"It's a privilege to work with such a dedicated team, all of whom have expertise in their area. We share the same kind of passion and vision for how to serve students," she said.

Montoya is also passionate about pursuits beyond her professional life, particularly music and culinary arts. She plays several instruments, including a new custom-built guitar, and is taking weekly violin lessons. Weekends find her playing bluegrass with a group of Las Cruces friends. She also loves to cook and to try new foods. Predictably, this lifelong learner hones her cooking knowledge and skills by taking cooking classes.

"It's important that I am balanced and that I feel energized, to do the work that I do at New Mexico State University every single day," she said.

One of her other career interests is the professional development of other higher education administrators.

"Higher education is important to our country and to our world," she said. "I welcome any small role that I can play in helping people excel."

This priority has led to her appointment last year to the Executive Committee on Student Affairs of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, a national organization devoted to the improvement of higher education. She is also on the Facilitation Team of the Chair Academy, which provides leadership development for higher education to university leaders worldwide.

"It's a real privilege to be able to share my knowledge and also to learn from others who might have even broader experience than I do."

She also serves on various committees around New Mexico, the state that has been her family's home for five generations and which she feels she is unlikely to ever leave.

Students also help keep her in touch with her roots, including former neighbors in Cibola and Socorro counties. And her past gives her insight into some of the challenges faced by students from those areas and similar environments.

"I grew up in Grants, and spent lots of time with extended family in Magdalena. I understand how the transition from a small town to a university can be challenging."

A fringe benefit of her NMSU role is the opportunity to serve on doctoral committees in the College of Education, where she earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees. In addition to being able to keep up with the latest research in her field, she can offer guidance to students who are likely to be future education leaders, completing the circle that started her own journey to NMSU.

To learn more about the NMSU Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, go to studentaffairs.nmsu.edu.