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Romero graduates both WLV, Luna Dual credit program helps her get a strong start

Sticky notes are key.

Samantha Romero earned an associate degree in liberal arts and general studies from Luna.

As Samantha Romero worked toward not one but two graduations this past month, she knew she had to be organized, using multiple methods to keep track of her various projects, assignments and tasks.

“I write everything down,” she said. “If it’s not on a piece of paper, it’s on my notebooks or my phones. I keep alarms (to remind me of specific things I have to do). I ask my parents to help remind me. I keep sticky notes for everything.”

Romero earned her associate degree in liberal arts (and a certificate in general studies) from Luna Community College this spring and participated in graduation on May 8. The following week, she traded in her teal cap and gown for green, gold and white as she walked the line for graduation at West Las Vegas High School. The dual achievement was made possible by participation in dual credit and concurrent enrollment – not to mention a lot of diligence and every time management and organizational trick Romero could muster. She also managed to balance the schoolwork at WLV, classes at Luna and New Mexico Highlands with a couple of part-time jobs.

Now Romero’s in Albuquerque, preparing for the next step in her higher educational journey. This fall she’ll begin studies in clinical and forensic psychology at the University of New Mexico. Having completed much of her core curriculum requirements while at Luna, Romero can delve into her bachelor’s program and her field of choice sooner than most of her peers. She wants to attain a master’s and then a doctorate in psychology.

“I feel like I’ve always wanted to help people,” Romero said of her choice to pursue studies in the behavioral sciences. “Over the years, I see people dealing with mental disorders and mental issues. It’s so much deeper. Even learning about chemical imbalances. Learning about how the brain affects someone so much, and there are so many things that aren’t even studied. I fell in love with all of it and how all of it works.”

Going to college has been in Romero’s plans since she was a youngster. Between her parents and others influencing her to value higher education and her own interest in developing as a person, Romero said she stuck to her main goals no matter what curves the road presented.

COVID-19 and its aftermath presented some of those curves. In March 2020, Romero had been on the verge of joining her Lady Dons cheer squad for state competition when word came down that due to the pandemic there would be no state competition in the sport. The shutdown also applied to other school activities and sports like softball; Romero had been a catcher for West’s varsity. (She’s also competed in cross country for the Lady Dons.)

There may have been disappointment. But instead of allowing the pandemic to stop her, Romero treated it as a minor detour.

“It really was motivation,” she said. “Time management has been important. When you go to class as usual, that’s not as hard. When you’re at home all the time, you forget. I had a lot of support – everyone from friends to cousins and other family. They’re always texting, ‘Hey did you go to class?’, ‘Did you get this done?’ So there was a lot of support.”

It helped Romero to have the supportive environment she encountered at Luna in particular.
“At Luna it was a really cool experience,” she recalled. “Every teacher was always (following up with you); they care about you. It was a welcoming environment. It is a healthy environment and very beneficial to anyone who really wants to start off your college career.”

“If you miss a class you get an e-mail right away. They would take the time in class to discuss everybody’s problems. I could send an e-mail or make a phone call. They would always take the time to discuss things. They were always really good with that. … With the tutoring they were always very helpful. I wouldn’t have to wait long to get a response. They would focus on you. The tutors, they are students too, so they’re more understanding. They try to make as much time as they can just to help you.”

Romero mentioned several faculty and staff who were particularly helpful: Ray Varela, ACE coordinator; instructors Chelsea Lucero, Sherry Goodyear, Billie Mathews, Kim Baca, Justine Chavez, Rick Baca; dual credit coordinator (and now registrar) Geri Saavedra, and student services specialist Amber Scarver. Dan Gonzales, a math instructor, she said, “was helpful even going back to high school. I’ll forever be grateful for his help.”

She also credits her family for instilling strong values, including an appreciation for education, and for continuing to support her along the way. They include mom Shannon Saiz, stepdad Adam Saiz; dad Marcus Romero, stepmom Olivia Medina; uncle Matthew Romero and aunt Marisa Saiz; and her grandparents. “Without them, I don’t think any of this would be possible,” she said.

Romero said the strong start she’s gotten has her feeling ready for the road in front of her.

“To me college has always been a No. 1 thing for me. In this life everything can be taken away from you. You get a degree; that’s on you forever. That sticks with you no matter what happens. That’s yours. I’m able to walk into college as a junior and step into my field. My parents were always telling me about college. At the end of the day, it’s just you. I did it for me. I created a whole different mindset. This is what I want – and this is how I’m going to do it.”

“For students in high school right now, I would say get involved and do everything. Make school one of your priorities. (Activities and dual credit courses are also recommended.) These all put you in play. Just try. Put everything you can into it – your motivation, your hard work, your strengths. Find your motivation, and find that support system. It all pays off sooner or later.”