The inaugural cohort of Conroy Scholars graduates

By Melissa Rutter '17

2019 marks the graduation of the first-ever Conroy Scholars at NMSU. During their four years, all seven students have received opportunities that include interning for well-known companies and clocking countless hours in volunteer work with organizations and communities across the world. Thanks to their scholarship, they also are graduating debt free. 

The Conroy Scholarship is named after William B. Conroy, who served as NMSU’s president from 1997-2000, following his service as interim president and provost. While at NMSU, Conroy was a strong supporter of the honors program, which included the renovation of the historic YMCA building that now houses the Conroy Honors College. 

At the 2002 dedication of the William B. Conroy Honors Center, Conroy spoke at the ceremony celebrating the renovation of the former YMCA building.

“When I first came to NMSU, I was very impressed by the University Honors program. It had two relatively small rooms in what was then the Hardman building, but it wasn’t in a visible location,” Conroy says. “The building it is in now was originally completed in 1907 to serve as a YMCA dormitory for male students. Then, later it was used by the Music Department, and still later by the Air Force ROTC before being closed for safety reasons. After I retired, it became a college.” 

The renovated building was dedicated as the William B. Conroy Honors Center in 2002. Years later, the scholarship was also named in his honor for his hard work and his belief in the college. 

“Bill Conroy’s legacy is found throughout the whole Honors College. He was responsible for elevating the honors program to an Honors College and then helped with the fundraising to do the building renovation to make it habitable again,” says NMSU Honors College Dean Miriam Chaiken. “Under the leadership of the founding Dean William Eamon, the Conroy Honors College became the first Honors College in New Mexico.” 

High school students who are National Merit semi-finalists or National Hispanic Merit semi-finalists are eligible for the Conroy Scholarship as freshmen at NMSU. The scholarship is a four-year offer that covers tuition and other expenses, which requires students to maintain a 3.5 grade point average. 

“In 2014, we started recruiting Conroy Scholars, and in the first year, we attracted six students. Now, we have 37. I’m anticipating we will have another 30 to 35 new Conroy Scholars in fall 2019,” Chaiken says. “We invite them to campus, and we have two days of events where they get a chance to meet other Conroy Scholars, they learn about their scholarship offers, they get to meet with professors in the field they are studying and they get a campus tour to see what the residence halls look like. We really put out the red carpet, so they feel welcomed.” 

According to Chaiken, NMSU is successfully attracting high-achieving students and is competing with elite schools. 

“The Conroy program is unique in the way that we are specifically targeting and recruiting this group of high-achieving students. We have about 80 students who have applied for the fall of 2019, and some of them will choose to go elsewhere,” Chaiken says. “But, our competition is not the University of Texas at El Paso or the University of New Mexico, it’s Stanford and Yale.”

The first-ever set of Conroy Scholars are Elena Davidson, Angela Kearns, Caroline Korte, Sienna Mata, Guadalupe Ochoa, Haley Stewart and Leah Stiff, who have majors varying from journalism to computer science to psychology. 

In anticipation of the upcoming graduations, Chaiken has arranged for a stole to be given to the graduates to wear with their caps and gowns that recognizes their achievements as Conroy Scholars. 

“We want them to have that special identity when they graduate,” Chaiken says. 

Conroy believes the Honors College is providing the opportunity to attract and keep some of the brightest students and faculty. 

“I think the reason why the Honors College has been such a success is the leadership the college has, the talented faulty who like the idea of teaching in the Honors College and the students who are the best ambassadors,” Conroy says. “Everything is really working well, and I think it gives added visibility to NMSU to have such a viable college among all of its great programs.” 

Background: Students at the YMCA building during its construction at the then, New Mexico College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in 1908, and now home to the Conroy Honors College.
Above: In August 2016, William B. Conroy (seated) met with recipients of the NMSU Conroy Scholarship including (from left) Analyssa Martinez and Arianna Martinez, who were first-year scholars at the time, and Angela Kearns, Caroline Korte and Haley Stewart, who were second-year scholars then and are members of the first cohort of scholars graduating in 2019.

Honors College Dean Miriam Chaiken.

2019 CONROY SCHOLARS

Elena Davidson - Las Cruces, New Mexico

During summer 2017, Elena Davidson worked as an engineering practicum intern at Google in Mountain View, California. The following summer she interned as an engineer at Qualcomm in San Diego, California, where she worked on one of its product test teams, and where she will return as a full-time engineer after she graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. 

Davidson has also spent several years serving as a leader in NMSU’s Young Women in Computing, an outreach organization aimed at increasing female interest in computer science. Davidson says one of her standout moments was in October 2018 when she was chosen as a Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions scholar. The organization aims to advance Hispanics in computing and only awards four university students in North America every year.

Angela Kearns - Las Cruces, New Mexico

Angela Kearns is graduating with her bachelor’s degrees in computer science and mathematics, and she will be returning to Nike, Inc. as a full-time software engineer. She first interned for the company during summer 2018, where she worked in a business systems analyst role. She also interned with TRAX International at White Sands Missile Range as a software developer in summer 2017. 

Throughout her four years at NMSU, Kearns participated in numerous city and campus-wide volunteering projects, including serving food at Casa de Peregrinos Soup Kitchen, cleaning campus as part of the Keep State Great beautification project and helping with the NMSU Career Connections career fair. She also worked for Young Women in Computing, which gave her the opportunity to teach students about computer science at local schools.

Caroline Korte - Albuquerque, New Mexico

Caroline Korte will be graduating in December 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and minors in counseling and educational psychology and child advocacy studies. She spent time interning at NMSU’s School for Young Children where she worked with lead teachers in the toddler’s classroom to develop lesson plans and integrate new children into the classroom. 

Korte is also the vice president of the Student National Education Association and has volunteered every year in ASNMSU’s The Big Event and Keep State Great as well as at Jardin de los Niños. During the upcoming fall 2019 semester, Korte will be student teaching before jumping right into her teaching career after graduating. Eventually, she hopes to return to NMSU for her master’s degree. 

Sienna Mata - El Paso, Texas

Sienna Mata is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and media studies and a minor in gender and sexuality studies. She has been an essential part of Kokopelli, a student newspaper, where she has worked as the managing editor, copyediting, assigning and posting stories. 

Mata says living on campus has been a key element to her success academically and socially, and without the Conroy Honors scholarship, she wouldn’t have been able to afford on-campus residency. She came to NMSU a year after the other Conroy Scholars and will be graduating a year early. After graduation, she plans to move to California and work toward becoming a librarian. 

Guadalupe Ochoa - Tucson, Arizona

Graduating debt-free as a Conroy Scholar has given Guadalupe Ochoa the ability to focus her time and energy on school without having to worry about student loans. She will be graduating in December 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in elementary special education. Ochoa was a member of the first group of Honors College Ambassadors and recruited students into the college. 

She has worked with various summer programs for kids, including Camp New Amigos, which was a camp designed for children on the autism spectrum. She will also head to Costa Rica on a volunteer trip through the NMSU program, Global Citizens Project, which focuses on global leadership and expanding cultural understanding. After graduation, Ochoa is planning to return to her hometown, Tucson, Arizona, where she hopes to continue her education online at NMSU. 

Haley Stewart - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

After graduating with bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and government and minors in forensic science and economics, Haley Stewart will return to NMSU to complete her master’s degree in criminal justice and work as a graduate assistant.

In 2016, Stewart was a student panelist for the Domenici Public Policy Conference, and she received an internship with the Victims’ Assistance unit of the Las Cruces Police Department. In summer 2017 and 2018, she traveled with Aggies Without Limits, a student-run, international, community service organization, to Nicaragua and Puerto Rico to construct pedestrian bridges.

Stewart is also part of the Student Advocacy Board run by ASNMSU and traveled to Santa Fe to advocate for legislation concerning college students. Stewart says being a Conroy Scholar for the past four years motivated her to succeed.

Leah Stiff - Yucaipa, California

As a first-generation college student, Leah Stiff is graduating with her bachelor’s degree in psychology and minors in management and educational psychology. She has had two internships, the first through the Honors Internship Program, where she worked at TRIO Student Support Services as a mentor. During this internship, she researched practices that enable students to mentor their peers in higher education settings. The second internship was at the Southwest Outreach Academic and Research lab at NMSU where she helped research education trends and needs in New Mexico and helped the directors implement projects to improve the education of students.

Stiff has also volunteered during Buddy Day for Autism Awareness, Walk for Alzheimer’s and at La Piñon. After graduation, Stiff will be moving to Spain to live for a few years before applying to graduate school.