Investing takes many forms, whether it’s investing in the stock market, real estate, annuities or even corporate and governmental bonds. Dan and Katherine Burrell, founders of the prestigious New Mexico Leadership Institute, invest in something a bit more extravagant; the lives of young New Mexicans. The New Mexico Leadership Institute (NMLI) was founded in 2012 with the objective to build tomorrow’s leaders, today, and has inducted 3 classes thus far. This private scholarship and everlasting leadership conglomerate offers students the financial, educational, nourishment and leadership skills that will allow them to flourish in the state of New Mexico and beyond. The scholars go through an intensive interview process when they are only Juniors in high school and once selected, attend a Summer Academy at New Mexico State University to learn from top-notch faculty in the state, from both UNM and NMSU. Once they complete this academy, they are required to complete a community service project throughout their high school Senior year, enriching their respective communities with the skills they obtained in only one week of intensive leadership curriculum. After their senior year, they attend a second Summer Academy at The University of New Mexico where they showcase their senior projects and gain even more exceptional leadership qualities as they prepare for their college careers. The Round Up had the chance of following the new NMLI Cohort around the NMSU campus this summer, and as a NMLI Scholar myself, I was honored to witness the program’s success through a different perspective. As 20 high school rising Seniors came into the program blind, the progress, personal development and leadership skills that were developed in just one week is in one word: extraordinary.

Dr. Gabriel Sanchez, Professor of Political Science at The University of New Mexico and the Executive Director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Center for Health Policy said, “The New Mexico Leadership Institute really means investing our best and brightest in hopes of keeping them here in New Mexico after they are trained.” He followed by saying, “once you hear the mission of the program, you almost can’t say no.” One of his colleagues from UNM, Angelo Gonzales who is the Associate Director and Research Assistant Professor at the Center for Education Policy Research said, “I think this program is aimed at not only getting students ready for college, but also their careers which is an important piece of it and we want these students to have a sense of purpose in life.”

During the Cohort’s first Summer Academy they attend multiple workshops, lectures, volunteer work and hands-on learning classes that are crucial to their leadership training and also shape their educational experience. During the academy the scholars had the opportunity to work with children from the Boys and Girls Club in El Paso, Texas, ate lunch with political leaders, interacted with business owners and community leaders and learned from some of the state’s most prestigious professors. NMLI Scholar Zachary Ortiz of Moriarty High School says, “I feel

like I have made connections with people from around the state and these connections will last throughout college.” When asked about the NMLI curriculum he said, “I like it, it’s hands-on. You get to see how other people think and it’s very eye opening, because you learn by doing it, not just being told ‘that’s what it’s for’.” Zachary plans to major in Agricultural Business and Animal Science at New Mexico State University. Speaking with the scholars throughout the week was very interesting. These students are very capable and have extremely bright futures. Juliana Cervantes of Las Cruces High School, attending UNM, told me, “So far, I think it (NMLI) has brought a lot of exciting challenges and it is exciting to know that we are all on similar paths and will have these friends going into college, as well.” “The faculty is really encouraging”, she said.

Another scholar from Jemez Valley High School, attending NMSU, may have summed it up best. “My favorite saying is ‘Bullfight critics ranked in rows crowd the enormous Plaza full; but he’s the only one who knows—and he’s the man who fights the bull’.” When asked what that meant to her in terms of NMLI, she said, “No one really knows what it’s like to be a leader unless you actually lead; there can be critics from the outside but they don’t know because they don’t essentially fight the bull.” (Bullfight critics ranked in rows, poem by Domingo Ortega)

The New Mexico Leadership Institute has two fully trained classes so far and are working on their third. This program attracts some of the best and brightest that The Land of Enchantment has to offer and they are devoting their skills and expertise to our state; now that is pretty special. When I asked the NMLI faculty, from NMSU and UNM, a couple words that describe every single scholar that goes through the Institute, the majority of them said “passion” and “hope”. I don’t know about you, but passion and hope are two things that seem limited in today’s culture and I am excited to see students share that trait among future leaders within our seemingly underwhelming society of “play now, pay later”.

The New Mexico Leadership Institute is one of a kind and I hope it continues to change the course of statewide leadership, talent and expertise as these scholars dive off into a world of endless possibilities.

Author: nmsuroundup

The student voice of New Mexico State University since 1907.

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