Indigenous students find community at NMSU’s College of ACES


For any student leaving their rural hometown to start college in a large, remote city, the transition can be difficult. Making new friends and finding a sense of belonging in a new place isn’t always easy – and for many Native American students, it’s a big change to leave a deeply rooted and tight-knit community.

Of the approximately 14,200 students at New Mexico State University, about 2.3 percent identify as Native American or Alaska Native. At the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences, Indian Resource Development works to connect tribes, businesses, high schools, colleges, and universities in New Mexico, creating pathways of career through camps, internships and economic development programs. The NMSU Native American Indian Program also provides services and resources to help Indigenous students adapt to the diversity of the campus and succeed in their studies.

Two Aboriginal students from ACES College discovered this sense of belonging through the mentors, clubs and organizations that make a department into a community.

Rachel Ann Livingston

Dine student Rachel Ann Livingston grew up in the small community of Baahaali, also known as Bread Springs, New Mexico, just south of Gallup. Livingston, who plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in fish, wildlife, and conservation ecology in December with a specialization in aquatic ecology and management, said his deeply rooted Indigenous origins sometimes made it difficult to thrive as a student in the more urban setting of Las Cruces.

“When I arrived at NMSU, I had just moved five hours from home,” she said. “I had no other connections than Dr. Colleen Caldwell, who hired me as a work-study student in the fish lab. “

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In Caldwell’s lab, Livingston met a new friend, another student with Diné roots, who invited her to join the student sections of the Wildlife Society and the American Fisheries Society.

“When I walked into the classroom where the meeting was held, it was full of laughter – just like at home,” she said. “Everyone knew each other, and even if they didn’t know each other, they welcomed you anyway. This is where I made a lot of connections, and it made it easier for me to connect with other students in the classroom. The department and student club membership gave me a sense of community that I missed since I left home.

Livingston was also able to connect with other Indigenous students in his department – an easy task with the chatty group.

“Being able to connect with native friends was great – they kinda understand the challenges you face,” she said. “The fact that someone understands you without actually telling them seems a little more relaxing. “

As she contemplates graduation, Livingston hopes to work for the Navajo Nation Fish and Wildlife Department or perhaps continue her education with a graduate degree in a new direction. Her work as a student in the American Indian Business Enterprise program – a partnership between the NMSU’s Arrowhead Center and IRD – sparked an interest in environmental economics which she plans to explore.

Whatever her path, Livingston wants to make sure she works outside and gives back to the youth in her community by helping them find their own career path.

Elizabeth Riley, a registered member of the Pueblo de Laguna, started dating NMSU last fall.  She is majoring in environmental science and is considering a minor in Native American studies.

Elizabeth riley

Elizabeth Riley began her studies last fall as a major in environmental science, including a minor in Native American studies. A registered member of the Pueblo de Laguna, Riley has his roots in the Jemez Pueblo and Navajo and Oneida tribes.

Traveling across the state to start college during a global pandemic presented additional challenges for Riley as she navigated the freshman experience of life on the Las Cruces campus.

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“It has been a bit difficult to find and connect with other Native American students due to the pandemic, which warns us to stay six feet from each other,” said Riley. “Online meetings aren’t something I’m used to, and being a student who prefers to be in the classroom and interact with professors and other students, I had to make quite an adjustment. “

Still, she said NMSU was her top choice when applying to colleges, in part because of the sense of belonging she felt when visiting campus – something no other campus than she did. visited only seemed to offer.

Once on campus, Riley became manager of the women’s basketball team and found a student position in the Academic Programs office at the College of ACES.

“Since I started working there in October, I have been able to find many resources that have helped me tremendously, from the Gerald Thomas Hall study rooms, to establishing connect with people in my program or find out more about New Mexico State University and all it has to offer, ”she said.

With her goals set on higher education after completing her undergraduate education, Riley said she sees young Native Americans like herself as the problem solvers of the future.

“I am the first in my family to seek a STEM degree,” she said, “and I hope that by doing this I will inspire not only the youngest in my family, but everyone. around me.”

Amanda Bradford writes for Marketing and Communications at New Mexico State University and can be reached at 575-646-3223, or by email at [email protected]

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