Leadership Institute helps promising NM freshmen succeed

No one spoke the words “the best and the brightest” as two New Mexico universities got together over lunch over the weekend to honor 29 special freshmen, but the phrase was clearly on everyone’s mind.

In just a few weeks, the 29 will begin their higher education careers at New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico. All 29 start school with two extras under their caps that will help them through the college years – two things most students can only dream of:

⋄  Two years of training and guidance from the New Mexico Leadership Institute.

⋄  Scholarship checks for $25,000 – a philanthropic total of $725,000.

The scholarship awards at the luncheon at UNM culminated a week of intense focus on the question, “What is leadership?” Faculty members and administrators from both universities and representatives of the business world discussed with the scholars the importance of such topics as networking, internships, taking the bull by the horns, problem solving, dedication, perseverance, drive.

NMLI is the brainchild of Dan and Katy Burrell. He is an entrepreneur behind several successful businesses in fields as diverse as health care and real estate. The Burrells and their family and businesses are also the source of the NMLI scholarship funds.

In an interview, Dan Burrell said he was inspired by his parents – Mom was an educator, Dad an entrepreneur – and by his adopted state of New Mexico, where “the level of need is so salient.”

“There aren’t a lot of organizations out there that connect all the dots and stay with students,” said the native of Albany, N.Y.

The program’s goal is to thrive and to keep the best and the brightest right here in New Mexico. The second NMLI class of high-schoolers will be announced in September.

Three of the young scholars were singled out by their peers for special recognition: Marissa Perez, a graduate of Amy Biehl High School, received the group’s Generosity Award; Kevin Prieto, recently of Las Cruces High School, won the Bright Ideas Award; and Gabriel Gallegos, also of Las Cruces High, was presented with the Positive Attitude Award.

All of the scholars got to present NMLI projects in the UNM Student Union Building.

Corey Stevens, a graduate of Goddard High School in Roswell, did his project on “Impaired and Distracted Driving,” which social scientists say causes more car crashes than drunken driving. Stevens, who will study economics and public policy at New Mexico State, enlisted the help of City Hall and even persuaded Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh to declare April “Impaired and Distracted Driving Awareness Month.”

Sarah McEachern geared her project toward teaching young children the value and enjoyment of reading. She sponsored a “Book Bonanza” at her hometown Artesia Library and stoked interest in the printed word by reading to young children and by having them design and make bookmarks. McEachern, who learned to read when she was 3, expected about 50 children to attend the Book Bonanza; 90 showed up. Through fund-raising and donations – she had lined up the support of local businesses and media and the superintendent of schools – she was able to buy 130 books for the kids.

“I believe literacy is really important,” the Artesia High School graduate said. “Young children need to be encouraged to read.”

Another scholar whose interests lie in reading is Pierce Hemphill, recently of La Cueva High School. His goal was to provide books for homeless children, and although he didn’t reach his target of 1,000 books, he knows the 710 he collected were a great success.

Because of dyslexia, Hemphill had problems reading as a child. The condition wasn’t identified until he was 11, but then a four-year therapeutic program was able to help him. Today, he reads all the time, and in the fall will study finance and economics at UNM’s Anderson School of Management.

Mindshare LabsLeadership Institute helps promising NM freshmen succeed