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Luna’s Fernandez and Varela to present at NMHEAR Conference

Luna Community College STEM Director Francisco Apodaca (far left) is pictured with Sierra Fernandez and Raymond Varela. Apodaca recommended Fernandez and Varela to present at the NMHEAR Conference.

Luna Community College Nursing Student Success Coach, Sierra Fernandez, and Academic Center for Excellence Coordinator, Raymond Varela, have been chosen to speak at this year’s New Mexico Higher Education Assessment and Retention Conference (NMHEAR) in Albuquerque. The conference will be held Feb. 21-22.

The duo will be speaking on the college’s retention and completion plan and explaining the process of collecting and utilizing baseline data. Fernandez and Varela serve as chair and co-chair of Luna’s Retention and Completion Committee.

“It’s a new committee, and we have accomplished a lot this year. Part of our work has included the development of a survey and we’re working with institutional research director, Maxine Salas, to see where we’re at with our data,” said Fernandez. “We have four areas that we are focusing on — advisement, tutoring, instructional technology/distance education and recruitment and campus life. We will be talking about the progress we have made.”

Fernandez and Varela are the only individuals from Luna who will give a presentation. The committee is in the first year of developing a three-year retention plan that aligns with the college’s strategic plan.

“Retention and completion are extremely important issues that impact our students and our ability to continue to work as a college,” said Varela. “We have to retain and complete all our students; it’s one of our goals as a college.”

“One of the things we have to do is measure strategies that increase our retention and completion rates,” said Fernandez. “Data is extremely important; we want our actions to be evidence-based.”

Among the workshop subjects at the conference will be dual credit and Higher Learning Commission accreditation.

Fernandez said the committee researched what other colleges have done in the area of retention and completion.

“We tailored best practices to Luna and have had input from many individuals within subcommittees,” says Fernandez. “We are confident that we are developing a plan that is putting us on the right path; we have learned a lot in the process, and we believe we have a promising future.”

Both Fernandez and Varela said that a main component to the success of retention and completion is participation.

“I’ve learned how important it is to involve the entire campus and how important data-driven action is,” said Fernandez.

“In order for all of us to be successful at this college, it’s vital that everyone take part in it,” said Varela. “Everyone is part of retention and completion.”

The conference’s keynote speaker is Dr. Deborah Santiago, CEO of Excelencia in Education in Washington, D.C. She is expected to focus on what it means to actually serve Latino students in higher education.