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Waking up one morning, Juanita Garcia decided to make a change. A single mother of four girls earning minimum wages in Alamogordo, Garcia wanted something more for her and her children. She moved to Capitan and went back to college at ENMU-Ruidoso. At age 35, she enrolled in her first college courses, taking a full load.  At other colleges, Garcia might have stood out, but non-traditional students have always populated the halls of ENMU-Ruidoso and women often outnumber male students. Some students are looking to supplement an existing education, some are changing careers and others, like Garcia, are looking to start over.

Garcia doggedly pursued her degree, graduating with an Associate of Arts degree in General Studies. She then went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in University Studies through ENMU. Not content to rest on her laurels and having a secret dream of teaching, Garcia went on to earn a Master’s degree in Education, a little over ten years from when she started taking college classes.

Like many non-traditional ENMU-Ruidoso students, Garcia worked while she attended classes. The college offers many opportunities to work in-house, and Garcia took advantage of the work study program to earn money while in school. Funded by state or federal monies, several work study positions are available each semester. Most of the positions are on-campus and have hourly limits to insure that students have time to study. Staff members are careful not to overload students while recognizing that the skills learned in the offices of ENMU-Ruidoso are often applicable to jobs students may have in the future.  While the wages helped to put food on the table, when a position at the New Mexico Workforce Connection opened up just across the parking lot from the campus, Garcia jumped at the chance. ENMU-Ruidoso is the fiscal agent for the New Mexico Workforce Connection, and the two institutions work closely to provide employment assistance to area citizens. Garcia’s firsthand knowledge of the difficulties in finding a living wage job while raising children in Lincoln County allowed her to empathize with many of the under- and unemployed clients she met on her job.

Still, Garcia yearned to work with students. Increased enrollment demanded more advisors, and Garcia applied for and was hired as head of Student Services in October 2007. Much of her job revolved around students as she made sure degree plans were filed and followed and options were fully explained. State agencies and the legislature determine which classes are transferable and how new programs are being offered in institutions across New Mexico. Knowing how classes at ENMU-Ruidoso fit into four-year universities and colleges was part of Garcia’s job. Knowing how these classes may fit into an uncertain job market was part of her past. Understanding how a student felt in the face of so much information in such an alien world was part of her passion. Garcia decided to take her passion into the classroom. As a university studies instructor, she taught students how to succeed after enrolling in college. The lessons learned as a student, coupled with her experience in workforce training and in real-life made Garcia a valuable resource and personality at ENMU-Ruidoso. Garcia continues to serve the community through the Title V Grant program at ENMU-Ruidoso.

Like many ENMU-Ruidoso students, Garcia is a resident of Capitan. After Ruidoso, Capitan represents the second largest community of students. Credit classes have been offered there and dual credit classes are popular at Capitan High School. Available in all Lincoln County high schools, dual credit classes allow qualified juniors and seniors to take classes that count towards both high school and college. Academic and career-track offerings such as chemistry, English, history, hospitality management, math and welding mean that students are able to earn credits prior to their first year of college. In Capitan, it is possible for a motivated student to complete the college’s certified nursing assistant program while still in high school. Other high schools are developing similar programs. Devonna James, who worked with Juanita Garcia in Student Services, travels extensively to county high schools, including Capitan, publicizing and encouraging students to take advantage of these programs. Financial aid in the form of New Mexico State Lottery and ENMU-Ruidoso scholarships are available to graduating seniors. Some of these funding opportunities are time-sensitive. Garcia understood the immediacy. As she told anyone who would listen: “Don’t wait until you’re 35 like I did. Your future is now and we’re here to help.”