Laura Valdez, director of Office of Advising Strategies at The University of New Mexico, was recently honored as a Pillar of the Profession through the NASPA Foundation.
NASPA is the professional association for student affairs administrators in higher education. This distinction is one of the highest honors awarded by the organization and involved support from colleagues from around the country.
The last Lobo awarded this distinction was Vice President Eliseo Torres about 10 years ago.
“I was not aware that I had been nominated for the award until I was notified of the honor,” said Valdez.
Due to her involvement in NASPA at both the state, regional and national levels, Valdez was nominated to receive the award.
“I feel humbled and honored to be recognized as a Pillar. I have always looked up to honorees with awe and respect for their contributions to NASPA and the profession and never imagined that I would receive the same distinction as them,” said Valdez.
Pillars are also acknowledged for the contribution to their campus community. Valdez helped establish the NASPA Latinx Knowledge Community as an inaugural co-chair.
As a first-generation college graduate herself, Valdez worked with a TRIO program – helping high school students apply for college admission and for financial aid and scholarships.
“Both my Grandmothers, born before New Mexico gained statehood, had a limited opportunity to go to school. There were no secondary schools in their community back then. Likely due to that limited chance, my paternal grandmother encouraged us to get an education. When I was a first grader, she gave me a stern talking to about the importance of school. Years later, and working in the TRIO program, I finally understood my grandmother’s wisdom,” said Valdez.
Helping students gain access to college, through the TRIO program, ignited her interest in working in higher education and eventually in Student Affairs.
Valdez also credits her hometown of Coyote, New Mexico, and her parents Teresina and Jose Pedro for shaping her values and work ethic.
Karen Glaser, Dean of Student emerita, encouraged and supported Valdez’s involvement in NASPA. Glaser was the first woman to serve as the regional NASPA Vice President, and both she and Renee Barnett Terry, former Associate Dean of Students, opened a lot of NASPA doors for Valdez.
“I enjoy working with the people at UNM. We are a resourceful bunch that can work together in the name of student services. I enjoy meeting students as they enter college and see them evolve through their sophomore, junior, and senior years. I recognize their struggles and resilience as they pass through the stage at commencement,” Valdez explained.
Valdez admires the drive of UNM students to earn a college degree.
“We serve a lot of students of color that are the first in their families to attend college. Their families sacrifice a lot and students never take that sacrifice for granted; thus, are humbled and appreciative when someone helps them along their path,” said Valdez.
Valdez also offers advice to anyone interested in working in higher education.
“[They] should know that they will work long hours, will worry about their students, will support and mentor them, and then they will find joy seeing their students go off and do great things in the world. New professionals should only be in the field if they truly enjoy students and they should know that they will not be financially rich but will be rich with intrinsic rewards,” said Valdez.
Valdez would like to thank the NASPA Foundation for their recognition.