Helping Students on Their Journey to Higher Ed

higher ed story sfccFor tourists, the New Mexico Rail Runner Express is a journey into the past – Indian nations that have endured our droughts and heat for millennia, and Catholic communities created as much by church as state. Commuters riding to jobs in Santa Fe and Los Alamos see the present state of New Mexico affairs, but for students the train is a ride toward the future. Fortunately, the Rail Runner’s tracks pass by educational opportunities from Santa Fe in the north to southerly Valencia County.


Train Kids

For Ana Rael of Albuquerque, the Rail Runner was a gateway to a bright future in New York City. The 2017 graduate of the New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe will be attending Barnard College this fall, and the train was part of her journey.

“We love the Rail Runner,” Ana said in her “curtain speech,” a farewell required of graduating students. “I have made some of my greatest friendships with train kids due to our shared passion for New Mexico School for the Arts … and the fact that we are stuck together for three hours a day.”

In 2019, the school will be moving to the former Sanbusco Shopping Center just blocks from the Rail Runner’s Santa Fe Depot Station. Cece Derringer, the school’s director, says proximity to the depot played a role in choosing the location. A total of 10 “train kids” ride the rails now, but the move eventually will allow enrollment to increase from 200 to 300 students.      

higher ed story sanbuscoStudents at the Santa Fe Indian School (SFIS) are regulars on the Rail Runner. “On long weekends, we have as many as 200 students riding the train to go home,” says Stephanie Garcia, the Student Living Secretary at SFIS. Part of her job is getting parental permission slips signed to allow the students to ride the train. Some students ride as far as Los Lunas.

“SFIS students wear their identification badges and are allowed by SFIS to use the train on Friday afternoon to return to their homes for the weekend and return on Sunday evening to the dorms to begin school on Monday morning,” Garcia says. Many of the Santa Fe Indian School staff commute daily on the train. The Rail Runner is a popular mode of transportation for the school, according to SFIS Superintendent Roy Herrera.

New Mexico School for the Deaf has 32 students and several teachers riding the Rail Runner, says Eric James, Director of Transportation for NMSD. “The students especially enjoy riding the upper floor of the double-decker cars, seeing the beautiful countryside,” James reports.

Most of the School for the Deaf students ride from the Los Ranchos/Journal Center and Downtown Bernalillo stations, about 55 miles each way. “We are all very grateful to have the Rail Runner,” says James.

A Sustainable Future

Unemployment may be high in our state, but it’s not because Santa Fe Community College (SFCC) isn’t doing something about it. The school is a practical institution that values community involvement and education equally. Students have the opportunity to learn construction or culinary skills, work on projects designed by potential employers, or pursue baccalaureate and master’s degrees from complementary colleges and universities.

The School of Trades, Technology, Sustainability and Professional Services provides an extensive opportunity to learn about solar energy, biofuels, sustainable technologies, and water and wastewater operations. Those sustainability students may get hands-on training on the 1.5-megawatt solar array that generates most of the school’s electricity. Lawns are irrigated with treated wastewater.

President Randy Grissom says SFCC has approximately 6,200 credit-earning students, 4,000 to 5,000 students in non-credit classes, and many more in adult education classes, which include learning English as a second language. High School students taking dual-credit classes boost the total enrollment to about 15,000, and their ages range from 9 to 90, he says.

Although SFCC is indeed a two-year school, the Higher Education Center provides access to degrees from four-year schools like New Mexico Highlands University, New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico. Northern New Mexico College also is now an education partner.

Rebecca Estrada, executive director of the Santa Fe Higher Education Center at SFCC, says the success of SFCC is based in the relevancy of its programs. With the collapse of the College of Santa Fe, those managing the community college surveyed employers, students and government leaders to determine what programs would produce the workforce that was needed.

Today, the Higher Education Center works with New Mexico Highlands to produce business, criminal justice, education, and social work graduates, Estrada says. Working with Northern New Mexico College, the Higher Education Center also offers programs in cybersecurity and telecommunications, business administration, project management, and psychology.

During peak commute times Monday through Friday, students may access SFCC via Santa Fe Trails Route 22 from the Rail Runner’s NM 599 Station.

Preparation for Life

unm vcAt the southern end of the public transportation-scholastic web is the University of New Mexico-Valencia County, served by five Rio Metro buses daily.

John Lechel, public information officer at the school, says approximately 1,200 full-time students attend the two-year school. “Our major emphasis is preparing students for a four-year college and for life as well,” Lechel says.

Students who earn certificates and associates degrees from UNM Valencia County may find job placement as well, he says.

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