Alumni Connections

From sales to CEO, Hormel Foods leader values NMSU education

Jim Snee is the CEO, president and chairman of the board at Hormel Foods, where he leads 20,000 employees across more than 40 brands that generate more than $9 billion in annual revenue worldwide.

Jim Snee ’89 was in his final semester at NMSU, preparing to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in marketing, when he was offered a job to work in retail sales for Hormel Foods in San Francisco. His first day on the job was June 5, 1989.

More than three decades later, Snee still works for the global food company, based in Austin, Minnesota. But he’s no longer in retail sales. In the years that followed his arrival at Hormel Foods, he worked his way up, and now serves as the company’s chairman of the board, president and chief executive officer, leading 20,000 employees across more than 40 brands that generate more than $9 billion in annual revenue worldwide. 

Hormel Foods is one of the most admired global-branded food companies in the world and is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. 

“If I had to sit down and write the script for my professional career the day I graduated from New Mexico State,” Snee says, “I would’ve never been so bold to think this was in the realm of possibility.

“The education that I received from NMSU, the success of the company, and my ability to deliver results all came together in unison and allowed me to continue to advance and achieve what I’ve been able to achieve,” he says. 

Snee, who’s originally from Albuquerque, came to NMSU in 1985 to study business computer systems in the College of Business. However, he realized he was better suited for marketing and switched majors. As a student, Snee played intramural sports and joined the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity. He also met Tammy Atwater ’90, whom he later married, and who also graduated from NMSU with a political science degree.

“I always felt at home at NMSU,” he says, “and I think that speaks volumes about the culture of our amazing educational institution.”

After NMSU, Snee furthered his education while working for Hormel Foods. He earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and participated in Harvard Business School’s executive leadership and management programs.

Over the next decade, Snee advanced within the company’s leadership team, starting in 2008, when he was named vice president of affiliated business units. In 2011, he became the leader of Hormel Foods International, overseeing the company’s global portfolio. Between October 2015 and October 2016, he was named president, chief operating officer and then CEO. In 2017, he was elected to serve as chairman of the board of directors.  

Snee is the 10th president and CEO in Hormel’s 128-year history.

“There’s a multitude of things this job touches,” he says, “but more than anything, I’m the cheerleader, the champion and the spokesperson for not only how successful the business is, but all of the good things that the organization is doing that perhaps people don’t realize.”

Carlos Andres López ’10

Posted by grel in Fall 2019

Smith cultivates relationships, takes helm of Anteater program

Paula Smith, who was named athletic director at UC Irvine in June, worked in the NMSU athletics department as an undergraduate student for four years, which established a foundation for her career in collegiate athletic administration.

Smith celebrates commencement with UC Irvine student-athletes.

When Paula Smith ’88 was named athletic director at the University of California, Irvine in June 2019 she became one of only 40 women and seven African American women to currently hold the title. 

“It’s been a rewarding opportunity to serve UC Irvine where I’ve worked for the last 14 years,” Smith says. “The student-athletes, staff and community have been very welcoming in this new role and supported me 100 percent. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

After serving two stints as interim athletic director at UCI in 2007-2008 and 2018-2019, Smith was the deputy director of intercollegiate athletics prior to accepting the permanent position. The Alamogordo, New Mexico, native spent 12 years at the Big West Conference, where she started as intern and became an assistant commissioner before she was hired at UCI in 2000. Smith went on to spend five years at University of California, Riverside, before she returned to the Anteaters in 2006. 

Smith, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing, credits a change in majors from accounting and her four years as a student employee in the NMSU athletic department as helping prepare her for a career in athletics. For those interested in following in her footsteps, Smith believes building relationships is a key to moving up the ranks. 

“One of the things I felt that was key in my growth is staying connected with people in the business and being proactive about expressing your interest in the career,” Smith says. “With any form of business you have to network. It’s important to have the experience, knowledge and education as well as any work experience you can get, so don’t be afraid of volunteering your time. A lot of times that will get you in the door.”

After 30 years of experience in collegiate athletic administration, Smith says understanding the reason for working in the field is vital. 

“We are helping young people have a quality athletic experience, while they are getting their education, and it’s about furthering our student-athletes as a whole person and what will be the next 40 years of their career.”

Tiffany Acosta

Posted by grel in Fall 2019

Climbing the NBA ranks

Tommy Sheppard’s ’91 love of sports has guided him throughout his life. It set the foundation for a career that began at NMSU, where he worked in sports media relations as a student, and led him to the NBA, where he has spent the past 26 years working as a top executive for two teams.

Sheppard, an Albuquerque native who earned a bachelor’s degree in community health and played football for the Aggies for three seasons, was named general manager of the Washington Wizards in July 2019.

“I’ve been in the NBA for 26 years. This will be my 26th season. It was always a goal of mine to become a general manager in the NBA,” Sheppard says.

Sheppard credits the opportunities he received as a student at NMSU for kickstarting his career.

“Steve Shutt helped change my life,” he says, referring to the former longtime assistant athletic director of media relations at NMSU. “He gave me an opportunity to work during my senior year as I was graduating. It was just tremendous. He gave me this whole career in athletics.”

Sheppard worked as Shutt’s student assistant for two years, during which time he developed an interest in pursuing a career in sports media relations. He says, “NMSU gave me an incredible opportunity to learn and be around fantastic people,” including Shutt, Darryl Seibel ’90, former NMSU football head coach Jim Hess, former NMSU information services director Eddie Groth, who died in 2013, and current NMSU athletics director Mario Moccia ’89.

When he left NMSU after graduation, Sheppard took a job at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, as an assistant sports information director. He was quickly promoted to sports information director and held the position until he joined the Denver Nuggets in 1994.

“I started in media relations, and I expanded into scouting and working with the front office,” Sheppard recalls of his time serving as the senior director of Team Services and Player Relations for the Nuggets. “It was basically creating a new department within a department. We were team services, so we helped our players in every area as they moved and transitioned into the NBA.”

Sheppard spent nine years with the Nuggets before joining the Washington Wizards, owned by Monumental Basketball, in Washington, D.C. He served as the team’s senior vice president for basketball operations for 15 years until he was promoted to interim general manager in April 2019. Three months later, he was named general manager, joining the leadership team of Monumental Basketball.

In his new role, Sheppard oversees strategy, analytics, player personnel, scouting and coaching for the Wizards; Capital City Go-Go, the Wizards’ NBA G League affiliate; and Wizards District Gaming, a professional NBA 2K League team based in Washington.

Carlos Andres López ’10

Washington Wizards 2019 draft pick Rui Hachimura (center) poses with head coach Scott Brooks (left) and general manager Tommy Sheppard during an introductory news conference in June 2019 at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

Washington Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard introduces 2019 NBA draft pick Rui Hachimura during an introductory news conference in June at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.

Posted by grel in Fall 2019

Alumni Successes Fall 2019

Larry H. Lang ’80

After a 30-year military career leading five U.S. Air Force bands, culminating as the commander and conductor of the internationally respected, U.S. Air Force Band, Col. Larry H. Lang ’80, became the executive director of the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra in June 2019. 

An El Paso native, Lang’s love of music began in fifth grade and led him to NMSU where he earned bachelor’s degrees in music performance for trombone and music education.

He went on to earn a master’s degree and pursued his other love – teaching. Lang was a college band director for eight years before embarking on his military music career. 

Lang says, “all of my experiences as a player and teacher informed my work as a professional conductor.”

Lang is now putting his talents to work for the Flagstaff Symphony, which has more than 60 musicians who serve an audience of 14,000 people each year. 

Minerva Baumann ’13

Brennan Little ’93

Gary Woodland, an American golfer who competes on the PGA Tour, won his first major championship in June 2019 at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Not only was it a breakthrough moment for Woodland, but it was a victory for his caddie, Brennan Little ’93, who now boasts two major championship wins on his résumé.

Little, who hails from St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada, played golf for NMSU under former head coach Herb Wimberly from 1989-93. During his collegiate career, Little played 21 tournaments with a 76.38 stroke average. After college, he competed in the Canadian Tour, Asian Tour and the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament before he transitioned into a role as a caddie.

Little first teamed up with fellow Canadian Mike Weir, who won the Masters Tournament in 2003. It was Little’s first time being on the bag of a major winner. After stints with Sean O’Hair and Camilo Villegas, Little joined Woodland in 2016. 

Carlos Andres López ’10

Terese Marie Mailhot ’13

Author Terese Marie Mailhot ’13 was awarded the 2019 Whiting Award in Non-Fiction for her book, New York Times bestseller, “Heart Berries: A Memoir.” 

Mailhot, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English, wrote “Heart Berries” to tell the story of her life as a Canadian indigenous woman coming of age on the Seabird Island Band in the Pacific Northwest. She currently teaches creative writing at Purdue University. 

Not only did Mailhot earn her undergraduate degree at NMSU, but she also met her husband, writer Casey Gray.

“Heart Berries” has earned numerous other awards, including NPR Best Book of the Year, and Best Book of the Year from the New York and Chicago public libraries. In addition to the Whiting Award, Mailhot has received the Electra Quinney Award for Published Stories, a Clara Johnson Award and the Spalding Prize for the Promotion of Peace and Justice in Literature.

Minerva Baumann ’13

Posted by grel in Fall 2019

NMSU alumna leads as state actuary

Anna Krylova

As an undergraduate, Anna Krylova ’09 thought she wanted to be a financial adviser. But while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in finance at NMSU, she discovered a desire to study a field that was “more mathematical.” So, she opted to concentrate her studies in risk management and insurance and actuarial science.

With her sights set on becoming a professional who measures risk and uncertainty, Krylova graduated from NMSU with a bachelor’s degree in finance and an RMI concentration along with a supplementary major in applied mathematics. Today, she is the chief actuary in the Office of Superintendent of Insurance for the state of New Mexico.

“I received an amazing base knowledge in RMI studies at NMSU,” she says. “The program’s leaders – professors Al Berryman and Tim Query – provided mentorship that was indispensable and helped me get to where I am today.”

The late professor L.E. “Lije” Pease founded the RMI studies program at NMSU more than 25 years ago. Today, it encompasses three pathways for undergraduates: an 18-credit RMI minor and RMI concentration for finance students, both offered through the Finance Department in the College of Business, and an actuarial science and insurance concentration for math students.

“There is high demand for jobs in the RMI/actuary industry,” says Query, NMSU finance professor, who oversees the insurance studies program and the Actuarial Science Insurance and Financial Services Center. “At NMSU, students are taking RMI classes in record numbers. The benefit of having an RMI studies program at a Hispanic-Serving Institution is that more diverse students are entering the industry.”

Dozens of businesses and individual donors have contributed to the program. Every year, the College of Business awards approximately $23,000 in student scholarships, and John and Margy Papen founded an endowed professorship to support the faculty in actuarial sciences. 

Given the high job demand in the industry, students who study RMI and actuarial science typically find employment more easily, Query says. Such was the case for Krylova.

  “After I graduated, professor Berryman connected with the folks at Mountain States Insurance, and that’s where I started as an actuary. I stayed there for three years before I went to the Office of Superintendent of Insurance,” she says, noting the small but growing RMI and actuarial science industry in New Mexico. “Yes, actuaries are very much in demand.”

Carlos Andres López ’10

Students in a risk management and insurance course listen to instructor Yolanda Hernandez discuss an upcoming course exam. Founded more than 25 years ago at NMSU, RMI course enrollment numbers are setting record highs, building a future workforce for in-demand careers.

Yolanda Hernandez leads a risk management and insurance course, which is offered through the Finance Department in the College of Business.

Posted by grel in Spring 2019

The Aggie Traveling Hat

Benjamin Davenport poses in front of Hadley Hall in February 2019 with the Aggie Traveling Hat. It was the first time since the hat was purchased that it had returned to campus.

It doesn’t have legs, but it’s visited 42 countries. It can’t talk, but it’s united 150 Aggies and counting. It, you ask, is the Aggie Traveling Hat.

This rugged, crimson-faded, NMSU hat isn’t human, but thanks to Benjamin Davenport ’01, it has come to life as an adventurous, Aggie personification over the last 18 years. Davenport, who works on government projects around the world, leads a group of NMSU engineering alumni who also work internationally on state or defense affairs for the military or government. Linked by the Aggie Traveling Hat, this group is building an NMSU global footprint.

It all started in 2001. Davenport purchased the hat inside the former campus bookstore inside Corbett Center, and he packed it when he moved to the Marshall Islands outside of Hawaii for his new career. 

“A group of us Aggies were in the same area, and we were out on the water near a small island,” Davenport says. “We just got the idea. We placed the hat on the edge of the boat we were on and snapped a photo, and from there, it took off.”

Since that day, the Aggie Traveling Hat has experienced the Japan World Series, rode an elephant in Thailand and visited the Outback in Australia – to name just a few notable adventures.

While the Aggie Traveling Hat has done quite a bit in 18 years, one adventure it has not – and will never – go on is traveling through the mail. The hat is always physically handed from one person to the next.  

“It unites people. Sometimes it’s through scheduled gatherings, but oftentimes, through random, chance meetings,” Davenport says.

Of course, with that many hands, the hat’s bound to get into trouble. Twice, Davenport remembers almost losing the hat – once in 2008 when someone’s luggage got lost, and again in Guam when it fell off a sailboat during a storm. 

“We had to ask the captain to turn around to get it, and by the time we did that, the hat was water-logged and sinking. A buddy of mine dove in after it and came up with it on his head,” Davenport says. 

Despite close calls, Davenport says the hat never feels like a chore but more like a hobby that keeps him from getting homesick for New Mexico.

“It’s brought together many different people from many different backgrounds and situations, but we all share the same story – we’re New Mexico State grads,” he says. “The hat is our token to stay connected and lets us celebrate our culture and heritage no matter where we are.”

If you’d like to connect with fellow Aggies through the Aggie Traveling Hat, email Davenport at benjamindavenport@alumni.nmsu.edu.

Angel Mendez

The Marshall Islands

Yokohama, Japan

Thailand

Posted by grel in Spring 2019

New Mexico’s first female U.S. Marshal reflects on her NMSU roots

From covering news stories in the rural Southwest to investigating gangs on the city streets of Chicago, Sonya Chavez ’89 has had quite the professional journey over the past three decades. That journey reached a new milestone in April 2018, when Chavez was selected as the new U.S. Marshal for the state of New Mexico. But, it was her time as a journalism student at NMSU that launched it all for her.

“The entire NMSU experience was absolutely a positive one for me,” says Chavez, who is the first woman to be appointed to the role of U.S. Marshal in state history. “The background that I got at NMSU really helped me develop as a professional in so many ways.”

Chavez grew up in Moriarty, a small town in central New Mexico. When it came to selecting where she would go to college, Chavez’s choice was clear.

“I was interested in pursuing a career in journalism, and I knew NMSU had a great journalism program,” she says.

After graduating from NMSU, Chavez worked around the southwest as a broadcast journalist. Chavez, then, transitioned into her long-time career investigating gang activity for the FBI. 

“In some ways, it was a culture shock, because I didn’t have a background in law enforcement,” says Chavez. “But I discovered there was a lot of similarities in my journalism background and the FBI. When you’re interviewing someone, you are either doing it to gather evidence or to get a confession. And that rapport building, I already knew how to do that. Little did I know, as a young journalist doing interviews in the cornfields of West Texas, that all that was preparing me in ways that I would not even appreciate until much later.”

After 11 years fighting super gangs in the Chicago area, Chavez returned home to New Mexico where she continued working the gang detail through the Albuquerque FBI offices. After 23 years of service with the FBI, Chavez is thrilled to be serving the greater New Mexico area in her new role as U.S. Marshal. 

“There is nothing more rewarding than being able to do important work in a place you call home,” says Chavez. “Doing a public service job where you are protecting the community where you grew up in—it’s really gratifying and so exciting.”

Matthew Legaretta ’17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When she wasn’t taking journalism classes, Sonya Chavez (second from left, first row) spent a lot of time as a Delta Zeta sorority member, serving community organizations like Casa de Peregrinos and hosting campus events, including an ice cream social for new Aggie football recruits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by grel in Spring 2019

Alumni Successes

Kim Baranowski ’97


Kim Baranowski ’97 recently received the 2018 Citizen Psychologist Award from the American Psychological Association for her sustained commitment to supporting survivors of human rights violations.

To promote the rights and psychological health of asylum seekers—many of them survivors of torture—she provides pro bono forensic evaluations that document the psychological abuse, while training other clinicians in these methods and mentoring students to conduct research on how human rights violations affect refugee well-being. 

The Citizen Psychologist Initiative recognizes APA members who engage their communities through public service, volunteerism and board membership.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree of fine arts in sculpture from NMSU, she went on to earn a master’s degree in fine arts at another university. She worked as a professional artist in New York for several years while pursuing advanced degrees in counseling psychology. Currently, she is the Faculty Director of Research at Mt. Sinai Hospital’s Human Rights Program and is a lecturer at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. 

Minerva Baumann ’13

Keith “Mike” Ingram ’66

Keith “Mike” Ingram ’66 shares a connection to Hollywood icon John Wayne that dates back to 1987. That year, Ingram purchased ranches once owned by the actor, El Dorado Ranch and Red River Ranch, and started his Arizona-based real estate firm, El Dorado Holdings, Inc.

From Wayne’s ranches, Ingram grew El Dorado Holdings into a company that today manages a portfolio of more than 40 single-asset limited liability companies valued at more than $1 billion. 

Ingram, who graduated from NMSU with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, is also one of the owners of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Born and raised in Roswell, he attended NMSU full-time and worked 40 to 60 hours per week to finance his education, graduating debt-free.

In April 2019, Ingram was inducted into the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. The association recognizes the achievements of outstanding leaders who have overcome adversity to achieve remarkable successes.

Carlos Andres López ’10

Mike Mechenbier ’76

Mike Mechenbier ’76 is the president and owner of Sundance Mechanical & Utility Corporation, a central New Mexico construction company. But, that’s not his only success. 

He is a board member for New Mexico Bank & Trust, and he is the co-founder of El Ranchito de los Niños, a sprawling home in Los Lunas, New Mexico, that offers permanent housing for siblings in need, which he and his wife, Kathy, founded in 2000. 

“I’ve been lucky in all my business endeavors, and this was a way we wanted to give back to the community,” he says. 

In addition to his construction company, Mechenbier, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, also operates 4 Daughters Land and Cattle Co., a ranching operation founded in 1986.

Carlos Andres López ’10

Posted by grel in Spring 2019