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Pontelli finds way from Italy to land of green chile


Despite living in New Mexico for more than a quarter century, Enrico Pontelli’s native Italian accent is as thick as his grandmother’s pasta sauce.

But there’s a tell-tale sign he’s a true New Mexican when he’s asked about why he likes Las Cruces: “You can’t beat the green chile.”

For New Mexico State University’s dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, however, there are a lot more reasons he’s stayed in Las Cruces.

At the University of Udine, in Pontelli’s hometown of Udine, Italy, Pontelli studied computer science. To earn his master’s degree, he came to America to participate in a pilot program at the University of Houston. When looking for a place to get his doctorate, Pontelli found NMSU. He earned that degree in 1997 and never left. He joined the faculty, teaching computer science, and kept working his way up the ladder until he was named dean in May 2017.

Outside of the green chile, the biggest reason he’s stayed at NMSU has been his love for the people in the classrooms.

“First of all, the students,” Pontelli said. “We are such a gem. I don’t think people realize how talented our students are.

“They have an incredible work ethic, much more than at many prestigious universities. We have first-generation students that either already have a job or have strong family commitments in addition to their coursework. They regularly see their parents, their family, their siblings. They’re hard-working and connected to community.”

Pontelli is clearly proud of the students in Arts & Sciences, but he’s also proud of the faculty and the programs.

“CMI, our Creative Media Institute is wonderful,” Pontelli said. “They have a nationally rated animation program and are growing so fast. We have a very strong computer science program, with internationally renowned research. Every one of our programs brings something -- for example, our philosophy department provides some of the best preparation for law school.”

Pontelli recalls a visit a few years back by an NMSU graduate who earned her degree in philosophy before going on to become an entrepreneur in the field of cotton and owned a cotton gin.

“I talked to her and said, ‘What made you successful?’ She said it was her degree in philosophy. It had given her the right frame of mind.

We also have amazing researchers in biology.”

In terms of enrollment, Arts & Sciences is the largest college at NMSU.

Away from the job, Pontelli dives into things much simpler than the complexities of running NMSU’s largest college.

“I collect old comic books from the 1950s through the ‘70s,” Pontelli said. “I like to read ‘brainless’ books, especially when I’m traveling or on a plane. I love dogs. We have two mystery rescue dogs.”