Student Advocacy

Meet our Student Ambassadors!

(click the drop down next to each name to read their inspiring stories!)

Zane Stevenson

ENMU-Roswell

My name is Zane Stevenson, and I come from Roswell, NM. I was 17 when I made the decision to run away from my home due to family issues. I came back after 7 months of being away from my family, and if I were to go back to school, I would be missing out on a lot of lessons. This made getting my high-school diploma hard for me, and I was going to be a senior. This was when I found out about Adult Education. I would be able to join classes for free,  I would be able to work there as a work study, and I would be able to join their entrepreneur program. 


When I joined Adult Education, I was fully accepted for who I am. Nobody judged me in any way, I made lifelong friends, and I have a special connection with them. They helped me feel like my fullest self, grow and change for the better. I'm not in my small bubble I had for myself, no longer in a corner. 


I was able to get my diploma in under a year. I have learned so much over the months that I worked at ENMU-R. I am now able to talk to new people comfortably, create more fun outfits, get better at managing time, and so much more. The entrepreneur program helped me learn how to start a business, get better at having a team, and communication skills. Getting my diploma wasn't easy, but the hard work really paid off. 


My plans for the future are, any opportunities I can get by spending time with animals and working on electronics. I represent the people who are shy and always in the corner of the room. I hope that people who hear my story will be inspired to do everything they can to achieve their goals, and speak up when something is wrong. 

Samuel Gabaldon

Luna CC College & Career Readiness Institute

Hello. My name is Samuel Gabaldon from the small town of Las Vegas, New Mexico. I am a math guy who draws inspiration from the world around me. This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit the New Croton dam on the Hudson River in Upstate New York. This dam has been providing drinking water to the inhabitants of New York City for over 100 years. I was awestruck at how this one engineering masterpiece has helped so many people for so long, and I found my calling: I want to help make something that can impact people generationally. Today I stand in front of you as an aspiring civil engineer. 

I am also a childhood cancer survivor. In 2013, during my sixth grade year, when I was twelve years old, I was diagnosed with APML Leukemia. Hospitalizations and chemo lasted two and half years. Serious complications kept me essentially bedridden for the next seven and a half. I could barely move, let alone physically or mentally succeed at school. One of my hardest personal moments was being unable to complete my high school education with my class of 2019. 

In late 2022, I gained the health and mobility to begin to take my life back. My family and I started looking into options for adult education, and I am incredibly grateful that the Luna College Career Readiness Institute was available. After 5 years of being completely out of school, my self confidence was basically non-existent. I doubted my ability to even physically attend the classes, let alone to succeed. The program was flexible, considerate and understanding of my needs. over 8 months I began to gain experience, skills and successes. To date, I have passed two of the five HiSet tests: math, which has always been my strongest subject, and reading, which has always been a challenge due to my dyslexia. 

A particular highlight for me at Luna’s CCRI is their STEM program which features aviation projects. Last semester I participated in a skywriting project using calculations done by the students and culminating in us writing the letters “LCC” in the sky over campus. This project helped challenge my preconceptions about what I can and cannot do and helped me realize that I can change the world around me for the better. 

As a student of Adult Education, I stand for the people who, despite the odds, come back and fight for a better future for themselves and their communities. My peers around me have demonstrated motivation on a whole other level: from a mother who brings her kid to class while writing a flight path; to future EMT’s, nurses, teachers, engineers, electricians, carpenters - you name it. We are determined and resilient, as we inspire each other. 

For those who don’t have a high school diploma this is what I would say to you: if you doubt yourself, you are not alone. I highly recommend visiting your local Adult Education Program where you will find a welcoming and understanding environment. Adult Education is ready to accept you where and how you are, and to prepare you for independence and success in meeting your life goals. All of us are working together to pave our new future. My goal is to enroll as an engineering student at the University of New Mexico in the spring - wish me luck!

Leah Ellis

UNM-Valencia Next Steps

I’m Leah. I grew up in the east mountains outside Albuquerque (Tijeras, Edgewood, Moriarty areas). When I was in school, the east mountains were considered very rural. We were the fifth house on the mountain on 2 acres. Now that mountain has hundreds of houses on lots. 

My time in high school was short lived. I was expelled in late October of my freshman year, but not because I was trouble or delinquent (that came later in life). I ditched once when my parents went on a fishing trip (the whole week). Shortly after that situation I was called into the counselor's office. My mom was there, and I was told by the counselor that I wouldn’t graduate on time, that “the school couldn’t benefit from me” and they were letting me go. I was unseen, unsought and they were unwilling to aid, assist, explain, or help me in my education. No one asked me why I hadn’t turned in any assignment. Seven classes, approximately 3 months of school… nothing. I was 15 years old. I ended up homeschooled for a time before other responsibilities started taking precedence in my life. However, there was obvious neglect in the home and less than adequate support in my education. 

Jump forward some 30 yrs… I have always wrestled with not finishing my high school education. One day my partner came home for lunch and suggested that I go back to school, get my GED and continue into a college degree. He never knew my personal struggle to want to do just that, and late one night in March 2022 I got online and signed up. I chose to show up and be accountable for my education. I am about a year and a half into this journey, and I can’t learn enough and I can’t absorb it fast enough. OH, I have whined, complained, agonized, stressed, been utterly pissed off and have shed quite a few tears - but I have never wanted to give up. I’m currently rebuilding the ruins in my life, education being just one aspect where I’m building a new foundation. I am stopping the stigma of my past disappointments, changing my future and loving myself wholly and completely. I now understand that I benefit from having an education. 

Who do I represent? I represent those who were handed the impression that they were not needed. The unseen, the unsought, the average individuals who were simply neglected. Continuing Adult Education is more enjoyable and pleasurable because the pressure to perform is gone. There is no failure in education. It may take some time, some “longer” than others to get your HSE but no pressure. As long as you don’t give up it is always there, always tangible, always attainable and very rewarding. No matter how small your steps, you are still moving forward. Quitting is not an option when continuing education is available. Continuing Adult Education needs a bigger platform - we can’t hear you! There is a shadow of stigmas that include public stereotypes, perceived prejudices, structural barriers, associative labels and negative self talk about going back to school. We need to shine a better light on returning to education or completing education including the benefits. 

Continuing an HSE should be known as fulfilling, gratifying, pleasing and enjoyable. And in doing so there needs to be more access to campus resources, campus openness and campus inclusiveness… there should be no reason for failure, only reward. There needs to be better communication on how to navigate the HSE Program, including:

● Better Internet Access 

● Better Computers (laptops are too small) 

● Computer Skills 

● Navigating Google Classroom 

● Navigating Google Meet 

● Accessing Classwork / Print / Handouts 

● Tutoring / Mentoring 

● Library Accessibility 

● Food Insecurity (PASOS) 

● Activities / Inclusion 

● Student Liaisons 

● Transportation 

I want to say thank you to each and every one of you who have laid foundations for the next person to enter your program. I am one who is benefitting from your efforts and I appreciate you.

Lenea Yazzie

NMSU-Grants

Ya’ah’teh shi ei Lenea Yazzie yinishe. Naakaii Dine’e nishlii To’ahani bashishchiin. Nahodeeshgiizh chinlin deh naasha.  My name is Lenea Yazzie, I am born to my mother’s clan The Mexican Clan and born for my father’s clan, Near The Water People. I come from a small community on the Navajo reservation called Pueblo Pintado, New Mexico.

My mother left the family when I was two, leaving my father to raise my older sister and me. My father was an amazing single father who dedicated his life to both my sister and I's education and well-being, despite his own 8th grade education he always made a way for our little family but he did have his struggles with alcohol and passed away while drinking and driving in 2008. I assumed at that point my mother would step up but instead she carried on her drinking and gave custody to our paternal grandmother. My mother was able to get sober when I was 19 and for about 8 months my sister and I were able to get to make amends before she passed away from seizures due to alcohol withdraw. It’s safe to say that growing up I didn't have much direction in my life although I did have my father’s side of the family who did their very best and are still trying their very best to be there for myself and my daughter.

My behavior in school was never important to me so naturally I was expelled from the Gallup McKinley County School District only to enroll into the Cibola County School District but the catch was I was only allowed to attend under the PLC program, I tried it for a few months but after getting myself into trouble there I ended up dropping out of high school in March 2013 and was able to take my first 2 tests towards my GED in the Adult Education department at the NMSU branch in Grants, NM and ended up finishing the rest of the tests at SLCC in Salt Lake City, UT. I earned my GED certificate in December of 2013. By August of 2014 I was a full-fledged alcoholic and drug user, living on the streets of Albuquerque until I got pregnant in 2016 and had my daughter in February of 2017. Shortly after she was born I was picked up and incarcerated for multiple outstanding warrants and wasn't released until January 2019. The night I was released I went right back into the area where I was arrested up and decided pick up right where I left off. The last memories I had of that night were of drinking, doing drugs, and fighting before I got into a car with my friend who had been indulging right along with me. I went from being in the passenger side of the car too waking up in the ICU department of the UNM hospital in Albuquerque not being able to move my legs and not allowed to eat or drink anything because of the tube in my throat that was helping me breath. I had 42 broken bones and most of my major organs were bruised which lead to me having 5 major surgeries with plates and screws being placed throughout my body. My friend who was driving was pronounced dead at the scene and my other 2 friends who were in the back seats weren't able to walk anymore so ultimately, I am the only person who was able to walk away from that accident and still be somewhat the same. Over these years I've struggled with my addictions to alcohol and drugs and always found myself having to start over and over again either from homeless shelters or someone's couch with my daughter right behind me the whole way. Thankfully in May of this year one of my uncles was able to get me into a treatment center where I was able to keep my daughter with me there at the center while I started working my 12 steps

Adult Education allowed me to hold on to hope throughout my life. I was able to enroll myself into collage classes, something that I did not think would be possible due to me being expelled. My plans and goals for the future are obtaining not only an associate but working my way up to a Masters degree and further in Social Work. I plan on being dedicated to making sure that people understand that conventional high school is not the only road to success.

I represent those who feel like there’s no hope for them because conventional high school didn’t work for them. I represent every person who was told they couldn’t or wouldn’t be successful because they’re a product of their environment. I represent indigenous peoples who are on rural reservations surrounded by poverty and drugs with little to no education and zero opportunities to change that. I represent single mothers who are painting the road of education for their children.

I hope that people who hear my story will understand that just because my journey of success isn’t painted the exact same way as everyone else’s does not mean that it isn’t a success story. Adult Education is the paint brush that I used to paint my journey and now this same exact paint brush is currently painting my collage journey and I’d like to thank each and every one of you who made it possible for this paint brush to be placed in my hand free of charge.

Annalee Herrera

Doña Ana Community College

My name is Annalee Herrera, I am from Anthony, NM and a former student of the Adult Education Program. Growing up it was instilled in me that education was not important, and that what really mattered was to be a good mother, housewife and work to contribute to household expenses. As a result, these beliefs greatly impacted many of my life choices and consequently kept me from finishing high school. Nonetheless, deep inside I never lost hope of someday going back to school. 

When I got pregnant at a young age, because of this upbringing, I naturally again had to put my dream of going back to school in the back seat. My focus was to be a good mother, housewife, and work to help my husband with the household expenses. But I never lost hope that the day would come when I would go back to school to pursue my educational dream and would do so without having to feel guilty of doing something just for myself.

After caring for my children, working full-time for the past 31 years, and helping care for my sick elderly parents for four years, the day was finally here. At the young age of 49, I was finally able to pursue my dream of going back to school to get my GED and even possibly enroll into college. 

I enrolled into Doña Ana Adult Education (AE) in July 2013 and got my GED in September 2013. While attending college, I applied for a position as a math tutor in the same AE program and have been fortunate to be a part of the program for the past 10 years. The AE program helped me understand the importance of education and has allowed me to help other adults achieve their educational goals.

I am truly grateful to everyone who works so hard to make the Adult Education Program available because without it, it would have been very difficult for people like me and many others who have gone through early life hardship have a second chance of seeing positive personal growth. Through this program we are becoming productive citizens in our communities.

I have heard that education is the key to success, and I believe it. We just need others to also believe it. We need others to believe in us.

Cruz Anaya

Northern New Mexico College

My name is Cruz Anaya, and this is my story about the challenges I faced that prevented me from completing high school and how Adult Education has improved my life as an adult. Adult Education has given me the opportunity to do what I was not able to accomplish as a young adult, which was to obtain a high school diploma. This program changed my view on the importance of pursuing an education and how having an education helps further our careers and our lives. 

I live in Española, NM, and I was born and raised in Las Cruces, NM. My parents were both born in Mexico. Neither of them spoke English and neither of them had any form of education. I learned English through bilingual (ESL) classes in elementary and middle school. I always did great academically, and my parents looked forward to my graduation. Unfortunately, life circumstances prevented me from graduating high school. My life changed drastically at the age of 14 when my father passed away. One year later, my mother also passed away. I then went under the care of my half-sister, where I experienced a traumatic event by a family member. This pushed me to seek employment and move out. I got my first job at the age of 16 and continued my education. 

When I reached the twelfth grade, I began to struggle with having a work-school balance. I entered into an abusive and toxic relationship where I was introduced to drugs. By the age of 17, I was addicted to heroin and dropped out of school. I moved to Española with hopes of continuing my education, but my struggle with drug addiction did not allow me to move forward. I finally broke free from my addiction at the age of of 22. I am now 26 years old, and I have had a successful career in retail as a manager, but I would like to pursue a career that is fulfilling for me. This past year I resigned from my retail employment in search of a better employment opportunity, but not having a high school diploma has been a huge set back. 

I struggled with self-doubt about returning to school. It had been over eight years since I was last in school. I thought it would be too difficult to relearn and regain knowledge. In July of 2023 I gained the courage to enroll in Adult Education. The administration was extremely welcoming, encouraging, and supportive. My instructor and director deeply care about us not only as students, but also as individuals outside of the classroom. 

My hopes and goals for the future after receiving my diploma is to obtain a position of employment at Los Alamos National Labs as an administrative assistant and hopefully further my career there. I will soon be enrolling in an Administrative Assistant Certificate Program at Northern New Mexico College. At the moment, I have an employment opportunity lined up as a pharmacy technician after I receive my diploma. I am currently getting ready to take my reading and writing exam and am hoping to complete all exams by December of 2023. 

I represent the thousands of individuals who have had the strength and resilience to not only overcome addiction, but also those who have experienced tremendous hardship and have risen above it all. It is never too late to complete your education. Life can be difficult, but you will never know your full potential if you limit yourself. Achieving a diploma is a major accomplishment no matter what stage in life you are in. I hope to inspire those who feel uncertain about returning to school. Adult Education has had a positive impact in my life. It has given me courage and the necessary skills to enter into the workplace with confidence, and it will continue to introduce limitless opportunities in our lives. I encourage legislators to continue funding for the Adult Education program, and I also thank the legislators for the resources you provide us to earn a high school diploma free of charge and for presenting the possibility for change in adults' lives.