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“I relish being here because of the students,” Alan Shoho said. “I feel like I have a calling to be here.”
Shoho joined NMSU April 17 as provost and chief academic officer after five years as dean and professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee School of Education, and 21 years at the University of Texas at San Antonio, serving as associate vice provost for academic and faculty support. Before that, he was a high school math teacher in his native Hawaii and worked as an electrical engineer for Hughes Aircraft Company and Rockwell International.
“I came here with eyes wide open,” Shoho said, fully aware of the issues NMSU has faced in the past couple of years, including the firing of the previous provost, the resignation of former President John Floros, the resignation of Chancellor Dan Arvizu two months before his five-year contract ended, a faculty no-confidence vote in NMSU leadership and issues with the NMSU basketball team, including a shooting in Albuquerque and allegations of sexual abuse in the locker room.
Shoho, 64, said he is part of a new leadership team at NMSU that is focused on student success.
A major goal is to increase the university’s four-year graduation rate of 34 percent, its six-year graduation rate of 51 percent and its freshman retention rate of 72 percent, he said. Those figures are lower than rates at peer institutions in Colorado, Utah, Washington, Nevada and Oregon, which have retention rates in the mid-80s, Shoho said.
“We have a lot of work,” he said. “I know we can get there.”
Another part of his mission is to share the university’s “heartwarming” success stories, Shoho said. NMSU has a world-class computer science program and agriculture and engineering colleges, he said, and is making major contributions to New Mexico’s oil and gas industry, tourism and agriculture, leading water desalinization efforts helping to diversify the state’s economy.
Shoho said he has been visiting NMSU Cooperative Extension Service offices all over New Mexico.
“There’s a lot of good things happening here,” he said. “There’s a new dawn for this institution.”
NMSU’s fall 2023 enrollment includes about 2,500 freshmen, which is one of the largest first-year classes in recent memory and comes after about a decade of decline, Shoho said.
“All our dorms are filled,” he said. “It’s my job to make sure they feel welcome and supported.”
Students will be greeted by 50 new faculty members this semester, Shoho said.
“I think we’re turning the ship around,” he said. “There’s new blood, new energy, new ideas.”
Shoho arrived in Las Cruces as NMSU continues its national search for a new president.
The university has had about a dozen presidents in the past 25 years, Shoho said.
“We cannot take that kind of instability,” he said. “We need someone who can stick around five to 10 years.”
“I love his style,” Shoho said of Interim President Jay Gogue, who came on board after Arvizu’s departure and will stay until a new president is chosen by the board of regents. “I’ve learned a lot from him.”
For both the president and the provost, “It’s important to go everywhere,” Shoho said. “It’s important to be visible. I am out of the office as much as possible.”
As he walks around campus, Shoho said he frequently leaves post-it notes on office doors with a handwritten note to “make a person feel a little better.”
“I will do what I can in my role to create a different environment,” Shoho said.
His own story may be an inspiration.
Shoho had a 1.5 GPA as a freshman.
“I was not successful,” he said. “I made the top 90 percent possible.”
He stayed in school because he was a member of the golf team, and because of an adviser who believed in him.
“He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Shoho said. “I’ll try to create that environment” at NMSU.