In February, Alan R. Shoho was hired as NMSU’s new provost and chief academic officer. Shoho previously served as the dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Last month, Kokopelli reporter Alex Baca met with Shoho via Zoom to discuss Shoho’s plans and priorities for his new role. Shoho’s first official day on campus is today.
Kokopelli: What motivated you to pursue the role of provost at NMSU, and what do you hope to achieve in this new position?
Shoho: I actually applied for this position about three or four years ago. I actually didn’t make it to the interview phase, but I was always intrigued about New Mexico State University. I spent 22 years at a Hispanic serving institution, the University of Texas at San Antonio. It was kind of a natural fit for me to pursue another land grant, Hispanic serving institution. One of my goals includes helping to support the academic side of leading LEADS 2025, [NMSU’s] strategic plan.
I also have goals beyond the LEADS goals that I’m most passionate about. I’d like us to strive towards becoming the first land grant institution in the country that would be designated as a Native American serving institution; they call it Native American-Serving Non-Tribal Institution. In order to achieve that designation, 10 percent of your undergraduate students have to be of Native American ancestry. I was told earlier this week that we’re at somewhere around 2.9%. This is not going to be an easy goal to hit. You don’t want to necessarily have easy goals. You want to have some goals that are tough and ones that will hopefully stretch us forward.
Kokopelli: What inspired you to pursue a career in education? How has your background helped your approach to academic leadership roles?
Shoho: Great question. In my first career, I was an electrical engineer. I actually got my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, and I worked for three years for a large company at the time in the 1980s, and helped design a nuclear missile, the guidance system for it. To be honest with you, Alex, one of the things that I wasn’t getting much satisfaction from was the fact that I was helping design something that I hope never gets used. If it ever gets used, life, it will cease to exist as we know it.
I had some great teachers throughout K-12. They really made a difference for me. I still remember the name of one of my teachers who made a difference. In fact, about two years ago I connected with one of them on LinkedIn. He saw my profile and said, “God, you’re a dean of a school of education? Last I heard you were going to be an engineer.” He still lives near my father, so I went to visit him, had dinner with him, and I got to tell him about the difference he made in my life. I don’t think often times our K-12 teachers realize the impact that they’ve had on us.
Kokopelli: What do you see as the most pressing issues for NMSU right now, and how do you plan to address them?
Shoho: I’ve been aware of the last three months or so, you know, a lot of turmoil and a lot of the negative things happening in the press, newspapers and media. I think one of the things I’d like to get us to focus back on is thinking about what the core mission of our institution is. It’s really to help our students. I’m in the process of writing an op-ed that’s going to appear somewhere in the first few weeks of my tenure. What I’m going to really try to articulate is what did I see in this institution? Why would I come? You know, there are some people who, after seeing what’s happened to the institution in the last three months, might be scared away, right? Why would you go there? I really believe that New Mexico State is like a diamond in the desert; it’s a gem.
For lack of better words, I’ll use an analogy: All the oxygen has been sucked up by negative things instead of people learning about all the good things that are happening at NMSU. ASNMSU had a nice example where they collaborated with the UTEP and UNM student governments on Rivalries for Relief. I think that’s a great example of what our students are doing to help in our community.
Kokopelli: How have you improved student success in your previous roles as a dean? How do you intend to continue this effort at NMSU?
Shoho: One of the things I listened to is the people who work under me. One of our goals is to really improve student success. When I got to Milwaukee, our retention rate from first year to second year was only 68%. Two-thirds were staying in and one third was going; that wasn’t acceptable. I felt an ethical responsibility to help improve that.
One of the things at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that is similar to NMSU is there are a lot of first generation students. They weren’t predominately Hispanic, per se, but a lot more African American, a lot more Asian students. I listened to my assistant dean and he suggested that a lot of our students need more than just trying to figure out their schedule. They often just need a shoulder to lean on or some direction, force, maybe some just reassurance that reminds them “hey, you can do this.” That’s the kind of thing that I’m hoping to do to help our students at New Mexico State. Often times they have questions like, “How do I navigate this, who can I go to for help?” We have a lot of help, but I’m not sure that there are a lot of students, especially first generation students, who actually know that it’s available and where to go when they need help.