Scholarship program aims to keep graduates in state

Joylynn Martinez wants to show her Pojoaque community that she can lead. In 20 years, she expects to give back to her native state by developing her own brand of pediatric prosthetics. She said that she comes from a small community made up of mostly minority students who don’t often get a shot at a college scholarship, work internships, and leadership opportunities that in turn lead to a job.

Which is why the New Mexico Leadership Institute $25,000 scholarship — and the wraparound services that it provides — mean so much to her. She’s already started an internship at Los Alamos National Laboratory as part of the program. She’s one of 29 New Mexico students to reap the benefits of this five-year program, which nurtures scholarship recipients before, during, and after their college years to encourage them to remain in New Mexico and become leaders in any field they pursue.

Santa Fe businessman Daniel Burrell initiated the institute over a year ago after hearing concerns from New Mexico business owners about the difficulty in attracting new businesses to the state and building an educated work force. To Burrell, it makes unfortunate sense that New Mexico ranks near the bottom in both educational achievement and job creation as the two are tied closely.

The NMLI program starts working with students who display leadership skills in their junior year. It offers them mentorship from college faculty members during their senior year, participation in a weeklong summer leadership forum held on college campuses before their first semester of college, and continual oversight of their progress in school. In addition, the institute’s mentors help the students to find summer internships in their fields of interest over the course of their four years in school.

The students in turn agree to attend one of the two state colleges partnering with NMLI — The University of New Mexico or New Mexico State University — and express a desire to stay in the state upon graduation. “We want to make sure we develop an educated high school work force and keep them here in professions that allow them to reach their potential,” Burrell said. He said he has developed relationships with businesses and government agencies that will help the institute pair these students with internship and job opportunities along the way.

Last week the 29 students stayed in dorms on The University of New Mexico campus as they took part in a leadership development program in which they were tutored by business leaders and took field trips to statewide organizations to learn about job opportunities. That participation in itself helps those attending that college to get to know the campus and network with future teachers and students.

Renee Delgado-Riley, programming planning officer for The University of New Mexico, said about 280 students from across the state applied for the scholarship in its first year. The two participating universities have committed three faculty members to work with the NMLI students over the next four years. She said about half of the NMLI recipients are attending each of the two schools.

Delgado-Riley said most of the students involved in the NMLI program are also recipients of New Mexico’s lottery scholarship. One of them is Los Alamos High School graduate Tessa Snyder, who said the NMLI scholarship offers her the chance to, “help New Mexico the way it helped me grow.” She’ll be studying health, medicine and human values at UNM this coming semester and sees herself in 20 years working to expand and offer public health care options in New Mexico. Next summer, she said, she would like to be a student mentor in the leadership development program.

For Pojoaque Valley High School graduate Livier Arevalo-Diaz, this scholarship is different than others she has researched because it keeps the recipients and mentors connected over the years. “It’s not just, ‘here’s this amount of money, here’s the scholarship, you’re on your own.’ It builds a sense of a family relationship that keeps everyone united and helps us throughout college, and then once you graduate they will still be there for you,” she said.

The leadership institute will present the students with their scholarships during a 12:30 p.m. banquet in the Student Union Building on the UNM campus Saturday, June 28. For more information on the program, visit www.newmexicoleadership.org.

Mindshare LabsScholarship program aims to keep graduates in state