In our small, historic Socorro community, we have all come to appreciate the importance of strong relationships between “town” and “tech,” as we all share responsibility for our collective health and success. Tech needs Socorro, and Socorro needs Tech.
For this reason, NMT's President Stephen Wells formed a "Town and Tech" working group in Fall 2017, consisting of representatives from New Mexico Tech and municipal entities and community groups. The working group goals are to explore ways NMT and Socorro can partner to enhance the visibility, educational opportunities, economy, infrastructure, perception, and social aspects of both Tech and town, and to "maintain a vibrant rural, university community."
The Town and Tech working group developed initially from President Wells’ Vision 2027 retreat in September 2017, the goal of which was to create a strategic 10-year direction for New Mexico Tech and the surrounding region.
“We took bold steps to set a vision for the next decade where our university will be recognized,” said President Wells. “Critical to that is building a strong foundation with this rural community. There are not many rural communities in the nation where you have a nationally ranked university. You have that here, and you have people who live in the community who want the community to be successful.”
For the past year, the committee has interacted with other groups with similar objectives - such as the Diamond in the Desert beautification committee and the Socorro Chamber of Commerce - and brainstormed initiatives to improve the economic, educational, and social health of our community. The working group, however, recognizes the need to open this discussion to the entire campus and Socorro community.
Town and Tech working group objectives include establishing partnerships with Socorro, so both benefit from enhancing the economic, infrastructural, and educational elements of the region; developing coordinated marketing of New Mexico Tech and Socorro to create a positive image of the community for visitors and tourists, potential students and faculty hires, and residents; and supporting the work of NMT’s “STORM FORCE,” a community partnership aimed to promote K-12 student mentoring, skills in “STEAM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math), and a culture of lifelong learning.
“One of the cornerstone projects of STORM FORCE is a mentoring program that involves a collaboration between NMT, Socorro Consolidated Schools, and Mentoring Kids Works, NM,” said Sharon Sessions, STORM FORCE program director and Professor of Physics at NMT. “This is the fourth year of the program, and a record number of NMT students have been hired to mentor Parkview 3rd graders to help improve reading literacy.”
“In previous years, mentored students have demonstrated exceptional growth in reading skills. They also have the opportunity to tour labs and participate in activities at NMT with their mentors, thus strengthening the ties between the elementary and college students.”
Already, the working group has collaborated on numerous initiatives, including the renaissance of the Loma Theatre, mentoring relationships between Tech students and students in the local Consolidated Schools system, and increased levels of student engagement in local events, such as food-raising at local grocery stores for the food pantry and a NMT mural contest in support of the Socorro Beautification Committee (Diamond in the Desert). Murals from the NMT contest are now displayed on the Masonic Lodge at Leroy and Bullock and by ACE Hardware.
NMT has also increased monetary and in-kind donations to community events and school activities. For example, NMT donated all the old seats from the renovated Macey Performing Arts Center to the Socorro Consolidated School District and compensated the headlining band for the 2018 Socorrofest.
From this point forward, Wells sees the Town and Tech working group pursuing “tactical activities" to improve the interaction between NMT students and staff and the community.
Among some of the more immediate plans is a bike share program designed to encourage students to get out into the local community and support local businesses and a common website to promote Town and Tech community events, entertainment, and regional attractions and to attract out-of-town visitors. Additionally, the New Mexico Tech Research Park Corporation will open a community entrepreneurial space to assist with tech startups in recently acquired office space next to the new Nusenda building on the north end of California.
“Overall, the university will set some lofty goals," Wells said, “but I want to maintain a town and tech committee where we can continue to work on these critical steps of how we help each other to create an environment that's healthy, not only for the university but for the community.”
In order to plan and execute future initiatives, the Town and Tech working group has formed three subcommittees: the Town & Tech Economic Development Subcommittee, tasked with brainstorming ways of supporting regional economic growth and business development; a social marketing subcommittee, tasked with developing plans to market Socorro and New Mexico Tech; and the STORM FORCE Community Partnership subcommittee, dedicated to building better bridges between Tech and local schools.
In the upcoming months, the working group plans to share more details on further initiatives in regular stories in the El Defensor Chieftain and the Paydirt student newspaper. We welcome all discussion, ideas, and concerns.
Being a small and robust community has many advantages, not the least of which is the opportunity to bring together people across from Town and Tech for the common goal of making Socorro a destination for businesses, for visitors from around the country, and for the next generation of scientists and leaders.
Town and Tech Working Group membership:
- President Stephen Wells (Co-Chair)
- Steven Simpson (Co-Chair, Chair of Communication, Liberal Arts, Social Sciences at NMT)
- Vanessa Grain (Chief Executive Assistant to the President, NMT)
- Nick Fleming (City of Socorro)
- Donald Monette (City of Socorro)
- Polo Pineda (City of Socorro)
- Nick Keller (Socorro Chamber of Commerce)
- Pastor Linda Wilson (Socorro Chamber of Commerce, Epiphany Episcopal Church, retired)
- Jon Morrison (Socorro Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club)
- Peter Anselmo (Director, Center for Leadership in Technology Commercialization)
- Joe Franklin (Director of Information Services, NMT)
- Jo Ann Salome (Director of Human Resources, NMT)
- Randy Saavedra (Director of Affirmative Action/EEOC, NMT)
- Scott Scarborough (Director, Campus Police, NMT)
- Sharon Sessions (Professor of Physics, Director of STORM FORCE, campus liaison with Socorro Consolidated Schools).
- Michael Hargather (Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Faculty Senate Co-chair, NMT)
- Mike Stanley (Director of EMRTC)
- Nelia Dunbar (Director of the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources)
- William (Billy) Oxford (NMT men's soccer coach; Socorro High School varsity soccer coach)
- Dallin Sobers, (NMT student)
- Wanda Moeller, (El Defensor Chieftain)
- Henry Prager, (NMT GSA President)
- Jose Martinez Claros, (NMT GSA Vice-President