In Search of a President

By Chloe Fox

Staff Reporter

Samantha Sengel

            Samantha Sengel has over 18 years of experience at CNM, serving in various roles, most recently as Vice President of Advancement and Enrollment Strategy. In addition to a bachelor’s degree she has a business administration from UNM and an MBA from the University of Phoenix, Sengel is currently pursuing her Doctorate of Education from UNM. She has volunteered as a board member for several local organizations, including serving as a member of UNM’s Industry and Innovation Board.

Q: Higher education faces a great deal of challenges and opportunities here in New Mexico and across the country. As you think about CNM’s future specifically, how would you describe its most significant challenges as well as its greatest opportunities?

A: CNM is an incredible institution. I wouldn’t have been at this college for 18 years if I didn’t believe in the mission and the power of education. The challenges that we face in higher education are not unique to New Mexico or CNM. The world is changing at a faster pace than before. We have an incredible opportunity to design our futures and design our responsiveness, and we have what it takes to build that future. When I think about how we tackle the great challenges of higher education, I don’t believe that it’s insurmountable because I believe in the people that are here in this college. Our faculty is one of the most incredible assets in this community. What we have to do as an institution is invest in these people. If you talk with folks about how I lead, it’s side-by-side with incredible talent, and giving them the resources to move forward with that talent. Recently, we’ve had some incredible conversations about the future of the workforce at Sandia Labs. It’s a challenging conversation to sit with folks from an industry and have them describe a new world, what they need to have, how those skills are different and how they need something different from CNM to support them in their own growth, for this community and for our economic development. But the magic that happens when you bring faculty and administration to that table is they hear these conversations and participate, bringing their expertise to the conversation. This, to me, is exactly why CNM will be a critical part of the future of New Mexico’s economic prosperity. The biggest challenge I see as an institution is how do we keep up, and how do we do it in the CNM way? How do we ensure that we stay true to our values, and stay true to our mission? We have to be thinking in a way that gives us the opportunity to use our assets to diversify funding streams, and diversify our reach into the community. So as we access our people, our processes, and the places we have, we have to look at it from the perspective that CNM is the most incredible, impactful and important higher education institution in the state. We have to be agile. We’ve talked about change at this institution being a constant and change will continue. We will be moving forward and changing, but we also can be consistent about who we are while we make those changes, and that to me will be our greatest opportunity moving forward. We have the opportunity to embrace change with the consistency of the incredible people, processes and places we have right here at CNM.

What is the most important sustainability problem for a college, and what would you do as president to help us achieve that goal?

In 2008, our prior executive director of facilities and I lead the charge of the president’s climate neutrality commitment. We put our heads together and asked ourselves how do we make change, so that the institution is leading in this community around sustainable practices and shifting the opportunities. The number one goal I have is that students leave CNM with an understanding of how to live within our world with sustainable practices everyday of their lives. They have to understand what their individual impact is, and what they can do to change the world as well. Going down the road, we need to move forward in our practices by taking on the additional expense of implementing these practices.

As a president, what could you do along with UNM? I know you’re big on economic initiatives, innovation and entrepreneurial activities but in reality nothing will ever change in New Mexico unless we really bring economic development. How do you see UNM working with you as a future president?

The core of what difference we can have in New Mexico, what does the future depend on? Our future depends on our ability to be agile and effective moving forward, and partnering together so we can go further and make a bigger difference. I serve on UNM’s innovation and industry partnership board to support the greater thinking around how do we move forward together. We need to be systematic and purposeful in how we think about aligning our curriculum between our institutions to industry opportunities and growth in our communities. What are we doing at CNM to insure an open door to UNM? What is UNM doing to insure the door isn’t locked when they get there? What is it that we can do to ensure the learning outcomes lead to employment along the way? We have a responsibility of ensuring that students will be able to provide for their families here in New Mexico. I am going to be a double graduate of UNM. To me, it’s not about us versus them; we are what will take New Mexico forward together. Higher education, and education at its core will be exactly what moves this state forward. I believe in all of our higher education systems, and I believe that if you come from APS or Rio Rancho public schools you can be an exceptional college student. As long as we’re supporting individuals when they get here, and supporting them in their learning, we can provide the workforce that’s required together. So I would hold UNM accountable, I would sit next to them as someone who believes in their initiatives and say let’s do it together.

Currently, part time faculty makes up 70% or so of faculty at CNM. We do exactly the same job as full time faculty, but current administration attitudes and policy are that part time faculty shall have very limited class loads, have no pathway forward to full time employment, and part time faculty are leaving this institution for other states because they can’t make a living here, and they’re told that that’s just the cost of doing business. How would your administration’s relationship with part time faculty differ?

I don’t believe part time employees should be used as full time employees, because that’s mistreatment. It is not appropriate for a part-time employee to be expected to come through as a full time employee. Full time employees receive additional benefits and opportunities as a result of that status, thus we expect more of those positions. Should part time employees have the opportunity to move into full time positions if they so please? Absolutely. And what are we doing to support part time employees in developing either the skills if that’s the issue, the exposure to the opportunities if that’s the issue, the opportunity to be at the table for discussions about making informed processes and empower them to be part of that? Absolutely. All of those things have to happen, and we can create structures to do that. I spoke earlier about people, process and place. People come first. Are we thinking about the people, are we investing in the people, are the right people at the table, are we ensuring that the diversity of voice and thought are at the table? Is our process appropriate? Are we thinking about the ways in which the process might be inhibiting our ability to do something? Are we not building out enough opportunity for part time faculty to engage in other meaningful work in college so that they do get the exposure to the other items that we believe a full time faculty is covering? And then, are we creating an opportunity for our systems and our technology to support that? Does everyone have to be in every meeting face-to-face? But if they don’t, and we say we’re going to create opportunities for people to have remote access to meetings, are we ensuring that that’s incredible access so that they can truly participate in the conversation and their voice can be heard? All of that has to happen as a systematic approach to improving those opportunities for part time faculty and ensuring that we’re moving folks forward. Now I’m never going to back away from my belief that part time faculty play an incredibly important role for us here at this institution. In order to support the amount of students we have it’s important to have the flexibility that part time faculty provide.

How have you prepared yourself to be president?

When I first started at CNM, I had no ideas about the possibilities of this institution. Creating programs like the STEMulus center downtown and the Deep Dive coding program, all of those efforts for me have been about understanding the possibilities at CNM. Most of what I’ve done is figure out how to connect with the people of CNM. I’ve also spent a ton of time raising dollars at CNM. When you think about raising money for an institution like CNM that has such a diverse mission and so many different areas of opportunity, you have to be able to dive in deep on hard and complicated issues. You have to be able to do a self-assessment that says you’re really lacking in this area. I’ve also participated on behalf of all of you many times in the community discussions. One of the most important things I’ve had to do is learn how to interpret from the outside what they’re looking for and what it means for us as a college.

The governor has proposed the free tuition program-what opportunities are there for CNM, and are there also challenges for CNM?

This is very exciting for New Mexico.           Our governor stepped out and made the statement that investing in higher education is the number one priority. We don’t yet know all of the mechanics of the proposal, but the most important thing about it is that the governor is saying investing in higher education is the number one priority. Free tuition, as we all know, does not eliminate all of the financial barriers an individual has when accessing and education. The CNM Foundation will still have to raise funds to support students for book scholarships, for the other life expenses that get in the way. That will be core to our mission at CNM. The most important thing is that we have to be at the table. CNM has got to be part of working on this proposal moving forward. We have to be a part of the analysis, whether that be supporting them through focuses of institutional research, budgeting and planning so they can be part of supporting the analysis and what it looks like, or sitting at the table to support writing the legislation and moving that forward in a way that can support more individuals and access higher education. I’m excited about the commitment that’s been stated, and I think it all comes down to how quickly we roll up our sleeves, sit at the table, and do the hard work.

What is your vision for CNM?

My vision for CNM is that we will be this community’s economic driver, and at the core of this economic opportunity in New Mexico. I believe we’re already there, and we have to keep our momentum in this work. It isn’t done by creating big, corporate-type feel efforts, it’s about being true to our values, true to our vision, and true to the vision we hold so dearly. I believe we can keep that momentum and move forward faster. I believe this engine has the fuel, let’s just put our foot on the gas.

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