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Living the Lobo Life: In Conversation with Dr. Mary Anne Saunders

Discover the amazing opportunities on offer at New Mexico’s flagship university.
BY Skendha Singh |   20-04-2015

The University of New Mexico is unique in many ways. It has a truly diverse and well mixed student population; sophisticated research interests, and is part of a vibrant cultural scene. Whether it is the Pueblo architecture, the flourishing student theatre or its picturesque location, there is something on offer for everyone.

BrainGain recently met with Dr. Mary Anne Saunders, Special Assistant to the University’s President, to discuss the thriving and changing culture of the University, it’s increasingly expansive outlook, and the connections it seeks to forge with the world at large, and India in particular. As a bonus, we also learnt just why the state regularly reports UFO sightings!

Edited excerpts from the conversation are below.
 

Tell us about New Mexico.

We consider New Mexico the microcosm of what the US will be by the year 2050; [the] US [is going to] be a minority majority country. [Diversity] has been working very successfully in New Mexico for a very long time. The Native Americans [have lived there] from thousands of years ago, then Spaniards from Spain settled in that area, [we had the] Mexicans coming up, [the] Anglos, as the cavalry moved west and took over.

New Mexico is the fifth largest by land. And the smallest by population. The people [tend to] look inward. What is new at the University of New Mexico is looking outward – looking at the world. It’s changing the nature and culture of the university.


What brings you to India?

Well, what’s interesting about the [University of] New Mexico is nobody knows anything about it! We suffer from an image problem. Nobody even knows we exist! So one of the things we wanted to do is get our word out.

We opened an office in Beijing about two years ago. Now, most of our international students come from China, but not in these huge percentages. Our second largest population is students from India, and we have 202. We think we can absorb far more! In fact they’re the ones who said, “You need to get the word out!” So that’s number one.

But, we have a second reason for coming. We also want more of our students to come to India. I would like them to come to India and see what diversity really means. We have 19 sovereign nations of American Indians in the state of New Mexico! They all speak different languages. So we share that aspect in many ways.

I want them to see the differences in our cultures and the similarities.

What sort of relationships are you interested in building with the world?

Firstly, they have to be organic!

We want to form relationships with universities that have similar research interests so that our faculties can form these kinds of connections. India, for instance, is a very important strategic partner for the US. We have three major research labs; one is the infamous Los Alamos that developed the atomic bombs, another is Sandia, the third is the Air Force Research Lab, they’re the ones that do all the experimental flights and stuff. That’s why people in New Mexico think they see UFOs all the time!

We have [The Karl G. Jansky] Very Large Array, which is a large field out in the middle of nowhere with huge radio telescopes blasting space all the time. Yes, this really exists!

So, [we would] want to find partners that can do research in radio telecommunications at extremely sophisticated levels. We’re very involved in biomedical research . . . in a number of other research areas that are pretty specific.

Rural medicine for instance.

We’re number one or two in the world! We have the ECHO project that was started by an Indian American - Dr. Sanjay Arora. It uses the technology of telemedicine. The goal of ECHO is to form a community of practitioners [so] that you have a rural area, and a primary care person – could be a nurse or a physicians’ assistant, who doesn’t have all the tools necessary for interventions. But, they’re part of the ECHO community and they can talk to other practitioners in Albuquerque, maybe even in India, about different treatment options. They have a way of maximizing their effectiveness by accessing all the advantages of telemedicine.

This gives you an example of our research interests.

With India, have so many areas of mutuality that have not even been explored yet. There really is not an exchange to the level that we know is not only possible but desirable.

Which qualities define the ideal undergraduate student?

The ideal candidate is someone who understands that education in the US tends to be a solo endeavor. We need people who are self-starters, who are focused on what they want, [who] aren’t easily distracted.

The ideal candidate is focused – like a laser beam.

Describe for us the Lobo experience.

The Lobo experience is actually really cool.

One of the things that the Gobal Education office tries to do is to merge the domestic students with the international students. We have a lot of activities. We take them to the Grand Canyon. We take them up to Taos to see the Indian villages there. So there tends to be more interaction and less self-ghettoisation of international students.

We’re sports crazy of course! UNM [also has] the most lively arts community! In fact, the Santa Fe – Albuquerque – Taos area is supposed to be the fifth hottest fine arts market in the world. Who knew!

The Santa Fe opera [is] unbelievably good and it’s in the open! We have museums. In the university campus, we’ve got Broadway shows all the time. I walk across the student quad and there’s the theatre!

There’s something to do every weekend.

What can a student expect after completing his/her degree?

We have a very high employability rate. Especially for fields which naturally attract Indian students [such as the] STEM fields plus Architecture. Indian students are frequently hired in our office. They are very good workers and their English skills are typically superior. This experience is transferable, whether they stay on, or return to India.

Education at the UNM typically reflects [the] Indian cultural value [that] I want to be an educated person - yes, but after I’m finished, I also need to be a productive member of society. I need a job that makes a difference, not just a salary.

Fortunately, the meeting does happen in education at the UNM.

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