In her 27 years at the helm of The University of New Mexico-Valencia campus, Alice Letteney, Ph.D., has born many titles, from chief executive officer to chancellor, but one kept rising to the top of everyone’s minds during her retirement send off last week.
“She has had many titles, but friend is at the top of the list,” said UNM-Valencia Advisory Board member Belinda Martinez.
Cynthia Rooney, the chancellor of the UNM-Los Alamos campus, used many “F” words to describe her fellow campus leader during Letteney’s retirement celebration.
“She’s a force — a force for good, a force for the community. She inspires us to be our best selves,” said Rooney. “She is fabulous and fun. She is a friend. I think that is something that resonates with all of us here.”
More than a quarter century into what was only supposed to be a four- or five-year stay at the Valencia campus, Letteney is retiring at the end of July and handing the baton of campus off to Samuel Dosumu, Ph.D.
The incoming chancellor called it a “great privilege and honor” to succeed Letteney.
“I have big shoes to fill; to come behind you and take the next steps,” Dosumu said during Friday’s celebration. “I will do my best for the Valencia community. Nobody does this by themselves. We will plot our next journey together. We are going to take this to the next level and you will be proud of us.”
When asked why she didn’t round off her tenure to 30 years, Letteney laughs and points out she will be 76 in the fall.
“It’s time,” she said, still chuckling. “I’m glad I stayed through COVID. That was an extremely challenging time, but we got a lot of work done.”
She plans to stay in Rio Communities and take advantage of her retirement by traveling to see her family.
“This is a wonderful community to live in. I really like where I live and I have a lot of friends,” the chancellor said.
While the campus has grown and changed in many visible ways in the last 20-plus years, there was behind-the-scenes action that also supported the campus and its educational mission. As of this month, the campus has received about $37.5 million in major grants for programs such as TriO, Title III and V, as well as Upward Bound.
“Those grants have allowed us to equip our campus with the latest technology,” Letteney said. “They also allowed us to establish our undergraduate research program.
“I think starting the nursing program was the biggest thing for the county, and it now has associate and bachelor’s degrees.”
The latest Title V grant will allow the campus to enlarge its food pantry and offer student services outside of academics, such as a counselor who can provide wraparound services for students.
Letteney said she will miss the people she has worked with over the years the most.
“We just have a wonderful management team, and our faculty and staff is very high quality. They all work together so well,” she said. “I’m very pleased to be handing over this group of people to our new chancellor.
“I’m going to miss the people but I’m not going to miss the stress,” she added with a laugh. “I’m going to miss the work which was challenging, but not the stress.”
Letteney said during her time at the campus, it has been fortunate to have the collaboration and support of the community.
“We have a wonderful advisory board, which has been very supportive. We have a terrific development board that has managed to bring more than $3 million into the endowment fund for scholarships,” she said.
The Valencia campus under Letteney’s leadership has devoted resources to opening doors to local high schools students through its dual credit program, which local high school students have taken advantage of. Since it’s opening in 2009, 20 School of Dreams Academy students have graduated from UNM-Valencia with an associate degree before earning their high school diploma from the charter school.
“Our dual credit program is so important for students because they don’t realize they can go to college until they actually take a college course and get credit for it,” Letteney said.
Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.