Campus News - October 15, 2001

UNM's best kept secret
Taos blends academics, trades

By Carolyn Gonzales

James Rannefeld, dean of instruction at UNM-Taos, is passionate about integrating academic education with career training.

UNM-Taos has six Career Academies offering programs created around the needs of the Taos community, says Rannefeld.

Offering programs in arts and culture as well as science and math dispels the myth that Taos is “only an arts town,” says Rannefeld, noting that a Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) program is being added next year. Other Career Academies focus on business and computer technology, professions and liberal arts, health and human services, and trades and industry.

Each academy integrates both academics and career-technical courses and programs. “By intermingling we hope to prepare our students for a career that is relevant to them, whether they want to become professors or plumbers,” he says.

Taos offers only one four-year degree, a BUS, through Extended University, 16 associate degrees and 17 certificate programs for its 1,200 students in 170 classes. Student enrollment is split almost 50-50 between academics and career-technical programs.

Taos also offers concurrent enrollment for high school students. Since opening up UNM-Taos to those students, the area high school has adapted the academy system model. “We can offer a seamless K-14 educational environment,” says Rannefeld, noting that they are also working with Questa, Peñasco, Cimarron and Mora. “Getting students involved and thinking ahead helps them to move to UNM-Taos or main campus readily,” he says.

UNM-Taos is a bargain, too. At $38 per credit hour, classes are one-third the cost of main campus.

Being responsive to community requests has led UNM-Taos to offer outdoor education – to train river rafters and ski patrols – and healing arts. “The healing arts program is expansive. It includes courses in oriental medicine, acupuncture, drumming, massage, yoga, akido, holistic health and more,” says Rannefeld.

Rannefeld looks at German education

UNM-Taos Dean of Instruction James Rannefeld took part in a trip to Germany offered through UNM’s Atlantic Bridge on the Camino Real. The program provided participants the opportunity to look at the German dual vocational educational system.

He appreciated the opportunity to see the historical guild system at work, but more importantly, he says, “Vocational studies are not looked down upon in Germany. Vocational training and academics are mutually respectful of one another,” he says, adding that everyone should be respected for who they are and what they do.

He says there is no such thing as “one size fits all” education and we can’t view those outside the college track as failures. “Some people learn on the job, as we saw in Germany and we see here. That is a valid education. Learning is a key survival skill.”

He’s equally enthusiastic about the academic preparedness UNM-Taos provides. “We provide the best gateway to main campus,” he says, pointing to the small classes, good teachers and schedules that accommodate working professionals as critical to their success.

Rannefeld says that instruction is excellent because many teachers retire in the area and want to remain involved. “Finding people to teach trades is more difficult, though, because good trades people make more money practicing their craft than working in the classroom,” he says, noting that the same holds true with computer technicians.

“One-fourth of our students go on to UNM or another institution,” says Rannefeld who notes that students who come out of UNM-Taos or a community college setting are more successful, more prepared for the remaining two years of their education than those who start at a four-year school.

Rannefeld points to a corollary benefit to integrating academics and trades. “Increasingly students who start out in career technical programs decide later to pursue academic programs.”

Rannefeld is typical, perhaps, of many of his friends and neighbors in Taos. He’s well-educated with a bachelor’s degree in paleontology from Texas Tech and a master’s degree in oceanography from Texas A&M. He got “burned out” in academia and became a carpenter. Like many other Taoseños, he went into business for himself, at one point having 10 craftsmen working for him and showing and selling his furniture internationally.

He ended up at UNM-Taos after his wife suffered a serious accident completely altering their lives. He taught woodworking, revamped the art department, became vocational coordinator, director, and now dean of instruction and oceanography instructor.
He says UNM-Taos has come a long way in the eight years he’s been there. He credits its affiliation with UNM for much of it.

Prior to this, the school had been affiliated with the Northern New Mexico Community College in Española and had an association with Highlands, in Las Vegas, as well.

“Resources hadn’t been forthcoming before UNM. Career and technical programs jumped by 40-50 percent for awhile,” he says.

Taos gets its money through a state allocation, just as main campus does, and it provides a fee to main campus. They also recently received a Title V grant of $2 million over five years. “It helped us double our full time faculty from four to eight,” says Rannefeld, indicating that the school employs 120 adjunct faculty.

“We’re worth paying attention to,” says Rannefeld. “We’re UNM’s best kept secret.”


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