This year’s valedictorian for The University of New Mexico-Valencia campus says she was able to earn that distinction due to the support of the instructional staff.

“The campus is a great opportunity,” said Elisa Ashford. “All the teachers there are really interested in helping students succeed. They do everything they can. It’s more like a family, I feel like.”

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Elisa Ashford, the valedictorian for the class of 2021 at The University of New Mexico-Valencia campus, will continue her educational journey at the UNM main campus in Albuquerque, where she will pursue a degree in nursing.

The 2017 Belen High School graduate earned her associate of science degree in general science this year, and is continuing her pursuit of a degree in nursing at the UNM Albuquerque campus next fall.

Dedicating herself to studying and taking advantage of the services at UNM-Valencia tutoring center helped Ashford stay on track academically, she said.

“I made sure I was getting any help I could,” Ashford said, who was ranked fourth in her BHS graduating class. “I also worked at the tutoring center.”

The biggest difference between high school and college is the expectation of independence, she said.

“In high school, teachers were reminding you of assignments,” she said. “When I got to college, now I have to take initiative with my course work and when things are due. As long as you stay on top of it, the work is kind of the same though.”

As she continues working on her degree, Ashford said she is contemplating a specialization in either pediatrics or surgical nursing.

“I always thought surgery was really interesting, but I also really like kids,” she said.

After high school, Ashford wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to do ultimately.

“That’s why initially I went to the Valencia campus. I knew I wanted to go towards the medical field. I would tell new and incoming students to try to get involved in as many programs as they can,” she said.

Ashford was able to be a part of UNM-Valencia’s undergraduate research program and help with a project that was testing the antimicrobial properties of the chamisa plant.

“I got to use a lot of different scientific equipment, practice presentations and writing papers,” she said. “I also got to work with a lot of faculty on campus, which was really beneficial.”

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.