Twenty-five highly-qualified New Mexicans have been nominated by Gov. Lujan Grisham and confirmed by the State Senate to serve on Boards of Regents at public colleges, universities, and special schools across the state.
“This year’s cadre of regents includes individuals with a high level of experience and enthusiasm for higher education, which will be key for guiding our state institutions forward in the coming years,” Higher Education Department Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said. “We look forward to collaborating with them and all higher education leadership to ensure that New Mexico’s students and schools succeed.”
Public four-year colleges, universities, and special schools are governed by boards of regents consisting of members who serve six-year terms and student members who serve two-year terms. The Board of Regents is responsible for governance of the school, including establishment of goals and policies, and overall operation and management. Other functions include approving degrees awarded and appointing the president of the institution.
Eastern New Mexico University
Phillip Bustos was born and raised in Española and graduated from Eastern New Mexico University with degrees in speech communication and psychology. He graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a Master’s of Education degree in Counseling and Consulting Psychology, later returning to New Mexico where he worked for ten years in the field of substance abuse treatment. Bustos previously served as President for Student Services at Central New Mexico Community College. Bustos says he looks forward to serving as regent and using his experience as the university reopens.
Chandlar Head is a Junior at Eastern New Mexico University pursuing a bachelor of music degree in vocal performance. She is eager to work alongside the other members of the board to cultivate a positive, innovative, and equitable learning environment for all. Head says that she looks forward to encouraging a productive and successful learning environment and wants to ensure that students on campus feel heard and fairly represented, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.
Trish Ruiz has a master’s degree in counseling for the University of the Southwest, a bachelor’s degree in elementary and secondary licensure, and a degree in speech language pathology and communicative disorders from Eastern New Mexico University. She is a counselor and site test coordinator at Hobbs High School’s Harold Murphy Alternative Learning Center, which services at-risk students, and she was an adjunct professor at the University of the Southwest. She has served on the Board of Directors for the New Mexico Public School Finance Authority, and has been named SAT educator of the year and most influential educator. Ruiz is committed to ensuring an equitable educational system for all, quality learning environments and curriculum designed to meet the needs of post-secondary or vocational education endeavors.
New Mexico Highlands University
Dr. Frank L. Sanchez was born and raised in Las Vegas, New Mexico and is a first-generation college graduate. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from New Mexico Highlands University, and a Doctor of Dental Surgery from Howard University Dental School. He currently serves as a board member for the Las Vegas San Miguel Chamber of Commerce and as president of the Pendaries Village Community Association. He previously served on the New Mexico Highlands University Board of Regents from 1981-1991. Dr. Sanchez’s priorities include increasing student enrollment and making higher education available to everyone who is interested. He hopes to partner with the business community and to see a resurgence of the student population on campus.
Christopher Ulibarri grew up north of Las Vegas, New Mexico and is pursuing degrees in political science, geology, and history at New Mexico Highlands University. A multigenerational New Mexican, Ulibarri runs a small candy store in Las Vegas with his family. He is currently serving as student body president, has served as a student senator, and was selected as a New Mexico Highlands University Legislative Fellow. He is also Secretary of the Las Vegas Arts Council Board of Directors and Amnesty International’s Legislative Coordinator for New Mexico. Ulibarri is grateful to the communities that raised him. He hopes to give back to them via his education and public service, and to continue the work of representing the students and faculty.
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
Jerry A. Armijo grew up in Socorro, and earned his undergraduate degree at New Mexico State University and his law degree at the University of New Mexico School of Law. He was appointed to the New Mexico Commission on Higher Education in 1997 and has served four successive terms as regent for New Mexico Tech. Armijo says he has a true passion for education, a commitment to public service, and looks forward to continued growth in student enrollment, research activity, and capital improvements at the research university.
Veronica Espinoza is from Sunland Park, holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, and is pursuing a doctorate degree in mechanical engineering with a dissertation in intelligent energetic systems. She has worked in New Mexico Tech’s Offices of Latin American Initiatives, traveling to universities in Puebla and Guanajuato, Mexico, to build relationships in academia and research. Espinoza looks forward to having to opportunity to be a voice for the student body, ensuring they are represented on the board, and continuing to work with student leaders, administration, and state legislators to ensure student success at New Mexico Tech.
Dr. David A. Lepre has a bachelor’s degree in teacher education from New Mexico Highlands University, a master’s degree in educational foundations, and a doctorate in educational administration from the University of New Mexico. During his 44-year career, he served as a high school teacher, University of New Mexico research assistant, Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) education analyst, Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) principal analyst for higher education, and LFC interim director and deputy director. He was also the first executive director of the New Mexico Council of University Presidents (CUP), where he served for nineteen years until his retirement in 2016. Lepre thanks Governor Lujan Grisham for the privilege of serving as regent and says he will consider every policy and finance decision in terms of maximum benefit to the lives touched by New Mexico Tech.
New Mexico Military Institute
Harold Alan Edmonson grew up in Roswell, holds a bachelor’s degree in history, and is pursuing a master’s degree in educational administration. He has taught history and economics to students in the communities of Socorro, Roswell, and Carlsbad for the past 19 years, and is passionate about helping at-risk and disadvantaged students. He currently works as a teacher and head baseball coach at Carlsbad High School, has led teams to four state championships, and has been previously named as coach of the year by the New Mexico High School Coaches Association and USA Today. Edmonson expresses his sincere appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity to serve on the Board of Regents, and looks forward to making connections within the academic community in order to foster an environment that honors traditions and exemplifies academic excellence, character development, and leadership at NMMI.
Maria Christina Montoya is a graduate of the Junior College at the New Mexico Military Institute and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work from New Mexico Highlands University. She is a social worker, educator, and government relations specialist, and currently works with Santa Fe Public Schools. Montoya has been recognized as a Behavioral Health Champion by the National Latino Behavioral Health Association, and serves on the New Mexico Public Education Department’s Family Advisory Committee. Montoya says she is deeply honored to have been appointed to the Board, and looks forward to bringing her broad and unique frame of reference in education and behavioral health to the role and engaging with faculty, alumni, parents, and cadets.
New Mexico State University
Neal Lee Bitsie is a fourth-year student at New Mexico State University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics. From Nakaibito, Bitsie hails from a long line of Aggies with the first of his family members attending the university in 1972. When Bitsie graduates, he will become the 15th person in his family to earn a bachelor’s degree from New Mexico State University. Bitsie’s values are inspired by his family’s history with the university. He believes the initiative his grandfather took, years ago, to ensure all his kids would earn a college degree was what paved the way for his own academic opportunity. He believes the Student Regent roll will enable him to fight for higher education access so that other families can benefit in the same way his family benefited. Bitsie passionately believes that far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
Arsenio Romero has more than 23 years of leadership, managerial, and executive experience, and a proven track record of leading large-scale initiatives focused on student achievement, financial management, and other significant areas. He currently serves as superintendent of Los Lunas Schools and has previously served as superintendent and CEO of Deming Public Schools, and assistant superintendent for instruction and turnaround for the Roswell Independent School District. Since 2013, Romero has also been a lead performance coach for the New Mexico Public Education Department. He holds a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a Ph.D. in educational management and development from New Mexico State University, and a master’s degree in educational administration and leadership from the University of New Mexico.
Christopher T. Saucedo grew up in Doña Ana County, graduated from Gadsden High School, earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from New Mexico State University, and obtained his law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law. He now practices law throughout New Mexico and West Texas. He considers election law to be his professional hobby and served for two years as Chairman of the Standing Committee on Election Law for the American Bar Association. Mr. Saucedo served for eight years as President of the Board of Directors of the National Hispanic Cultural Center and was President of the Albuquerque Bar Association. Mr. Saucedo is honored to have an opportunity to serve his university. He intends to work with all stakeholders for the benefit of the university. His priorities include increased student opportunities, improved student outcomes, and increased research funding.
Northern New Mexico College
Ruben Archuleta was born and raised in Española. He attended Española Valley High School and later Northern New Mexico College, where he graduated with a degree in radiological sciences. He is the supervisor of the Radiology Department at Española Hospital and has been employed there for 26 years. He is also currently serving as the Vice President of the Española Public Schools Board of Education. Archuleta is the President for the National Hispanic Council of School Board Members and as a Board Member for the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). He looks forward to serving the college that prepared him for a rewarding profession in the healthcare field and is dedicated to the education of all students from cradle to college.
Maria Evelyn Juarez-Parra was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, and raised in Española. She is a first-generation and DACA student attending her senior year at Northern New Mexico College. She is majoring in biology with a concentration in health sciences, on a pre-medical track, and is also currently serving Northern New Mexico College as Student Senate President. Juarez-Parra was recently selected out of 560 nationwide applicants for Georgetown Medical School’s Academy for Research, Clinical, and Health Equity Fellowship. As the first-ever DACA student to serve as a regent in New Mexico, she looks forward to bringing an alternative perspective to the role and supporting initiatives with an equity, diversity, and inclusion lens to make Northern New Mexico College even better.
New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Catherine Gray is a retired educator with experience in teaching students who are visually impaired in age groups ranging from birth to secondary school. She has taught at the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired residential campus in Alamogordo, the preschool campus in Albuquerque, and as an itinerant mentor and consultant for northern New Mexico school districts and early intervention agencies. Gray is also a Library of Congress-certified Braille Transcriber and has taught Braille to school and staff participants. She enthusiastically embraces the role of regent for the New Mexico School or the Blind and Visually Impaired, and welcomes the opportunity to guide the school and ensure that all students can become independent and productive members of their communities.
Robin Holmes is a lifelong New Mexican, a graduate of Alamogordo High School, and New Mexico State University. Following a career in the banking industry, Holmes has been both an employee and elected leader of Otero County and is in her fourth term as county clerk. She has volunteered for and served on the Board of Directors of the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Foundation and serves as Vice President for the Zia Therapy Endowment Board, supporting the Zia Therapy Center, a charity dedicated to assisting children and youth with disabilities. Holmes’ dedication to helping the blind and visually impaired was inspired by her visually impaired sister. She is honored and privileged to be appointed by Governor Lujan Grisham and looks forward to working and collaborating with the other regents to better the lives of New Mexico’s children.
Mary Willows is a retired teacher with 27 years of experience. She holds a master’s degree in education and teaching credentials in education and education for blind and visually impaired children. She is pleased and honored to serve as a member of the Board of Regents for the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and feels that the policy decisions made by the board will guide student’s success when they leave the school and ultimately seek employment. As a role model, she knows that the education that students receive at the school will guarantee a life of choices and independence in the future.
Gary Smethurst has also been confirmed as regent for the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He could not be reached by the time of publication.
University of New Mexico
Jack Louis Fortner grew up in Farmington and holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico and a law degree from the University of Michigan. He previously served as regent for the university between 1998 and 2016, and is the only regent to be appointed to four terms. Fortner served as San Juan County Commissioner for four terms, chairman of the Labor Management Relations Board for the City of Farmington, and the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board. He was awarded the Lobo Award by the University of New Mexico’s Alumni Association, the Community Leadership Award by the Hispanic Round Table of New Mexico, and an Honorary Letterman by the University of New Mexico’s Letterman’s Association.
Randy Fong Geen Ko was born and raised in Albuquerque and holds bachelor’s degrees from the University of New Mexico in biochemistry and East Asian studies and is currently pursuing a combined M.D. and Ph.D in biomedical sciences from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. He conducted research with institutions locally and abroad during his undergraduate career, including the University’s Cancer Research Center and the Sandia National Laboratories Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies, and was named a Goldwater Scholar in 2017. Ko says he looks forward to expressing his gratitude via public service to the University and the state and looks forward to tackling the pressing issues that face students, faculty, staff, researchers, and the citizens of New Mexico.
William Holland Payne was raised in Albuquerque and holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of New Mexico, and a master’s degree in government with a certificate in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. He also holds a law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law. He is a former New Mexico State Senator, and a retired Rear Admiral of the U.S. Navy with 34 years of service, including with Underwater Demolition team ELEVEN, SEAL Team One, the U.S. Naval Academy, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Naval Special Warfare Unite ONE. He says that his education at the University of New Mexico set the stage for much of the success he has enjoyed in life and is honored to have the opportunity to serve as regent to help shape the important role the university plays in the lives of all New Mexicans.
Western New Mexico University
Brenda Hernandez Gonzalez is originally from Mexico and is pursuing a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies at Western New Mexico University. She completed a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology at the university in 2020 and is a student athlete on the cross-country team. As a student regent, she looks forward to representing the institution and promoting a safe and sustainable future. She intends to uphold her duties as a student advocate to represent the University at large and her community. Hernandez says she is thankful and honored to be a mustang and foresees a strong future for to university.
Dr. Mary Lyndon Haviland is a globally recognized public health leader, author, strategist, and educator. She holds a master’s degree and doctorate in public health from the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and has completed advanced management and leadership training at the Harvard Business School. Haviland has worked in a broad range of professional environments including the World Health Organization, the International Medical Corps, and the United Nations. She is honored to serve as regent at Western New Mexico University and hopes to prioritize student-centered approaches to success to eliminate barriers and improve retention and graduation rates to build a vibrant professional community and a strong foundation for future generations.
Dr. Daniel H. Lopez holds bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in political science from the University of New Mexico. He currently serves on the board of directors for First Community Bank in Albuquerque. Lopez was president of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology between 1993 and 2016, and is a tenured faculty member. He previously served as cabinet secretary for the Department of Finance and Administration and senior staff analyst for the House Appropriations and Finance Committee for the New Mexico Legislature. Lopez is a recipient of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association’s Pete Porter Lifetime Achievement Award and the Barnard S. Rodey Award for Leadership in Higher Education from the University of New Mexico’s Alumni Association, among others.