Back when the 20th century was young, Wisconsin expatriate Billy Adams knew there was something missing from his new hometown of Alamosa. Despite its modest size – only a few thousand people – it was, nonetheless, the hub of the sprawling San Luis Valley. Adams knew that if the town was going to truly serve the needs of the region, it would need a college, not just to educate local students but all young people from across the Valley and beyond.
In 1921, Adams, who had risen to become the Valley’s voice in the state legislature and who would later become Colorado Governor, got his wish and Adams State Normal School – today, Adams State University – opened its doors to its first students. It has since become one of the cultural and economic pillars of the Valley. And, if you listen to the school’s new chief executive, that’s just the start.
“It is really poised to grow,” says ASU President, Dr. Beverlee McClure who assumed the school’s presidency in July. McClure, who for the previous decade ran New Mexico’s Association of Commerce and Industry, a public policy think tank based in Albuquerque, sees a university in bloom.
“This is a wonderful thing to be part of,” said McClure. “It (ASU) is really poised to grow,” and her job is to sell the school like never before. “We have not told the story of what we have to offer.” And what the University has to offer, she promises, is everything a young person would want in a college experience. “We have arts, culture, student activities, the beauty that is here in the Valley. We offer a ‘big university’ experience with the personal touch of a small university.”
In taking the Alamosa job, McClure is returning to what she says she knows and loves most. Prior to running New Mexico’s Association of Commerce and Industry, she was president of Clovis Community College, a job she held from 1998 to 2005. She also served for two years as New Mexico’s Secretary of Higher Education in then Gov. Bill Richardson’s cabinet.
Because McClure’s predecessor held the job for a full decade, she knows she has big shoes to fill. “I have an aggressive plan for my first hundred days.” The plan includes visiting clubs and civic groups spread across the Valley. She’s also made plans to meet with ASU alumni not only in the Valley but across the state. The job also means regular trips to Denver for official meetings with state governmental leaders. And in a little over a month, she’ll be having sit-downs with students returning for the fall semester.
ASU’s enrollment hovers around 4,000 students. They come from ‘Boston to Austin’ and everywhere in between. The school has also been the ideal landing spot for international students who might otherwise be overwhelmed at a place like Boulder or Fort Collins. Adams State is also the state’s first Hispanic Serving Institution, a designation for a college or university whose student population meets or exceeds 25 percent Hispanic enrollment.
Diversity was also a key selling point for McClure in taking the job. “It’s one of the other beauties of the Valley,” believes the new ASU President. “Many of our students are first-generation college students.” McClure, also a first generation college student, says she’s committed to “get them in and retain them,” as she is to every student who chooses ASU.
Despite having metro area colleges and universities from which to choose after high school in Aurora, La Voz Bilingüe production coordinator, Tiffany Wood, was sold on ASU. “I chose Adams State strictly on school size,” and the fact that it had a respected journalism program, said Wood. Of course, leaving the metro area and for a small town – generously, ten thousand people – required a small adjustment.
“Alamosa is isolated, but not isolating,” says the ASU grad. But, “there are still restaurants, theaters and shopping that didn’t exist in Aurora.” Looking back, Wood says Alamosa was a good choice. Her education worked; the friendships, too. “It makes me feel good to know that I’ve got that connection around the country and the world.”
For another ASU alum, things also worked out well. Initially, Liliosa Gomez, today, Padilla, had no plans to attend college. Despite having graduated from Canon City’s private and prestigious Saint Scholastica at 16, she simply returned to Pagosa Junction to work in her father’s general merchandise store, a family business that had served the area since 1905.
But a high school girlfriend, recalled Padilla, told her that she could do well in college. “She told me all about it and I decided, ‘why not?’” Three years after high school and with her family’s blessing, she left home and settled in at Adams State.
Her education paved the way for a career as a teacher. But, because she performed so well at Adams State, Padilla actually became a teacher before graduation. “I got a teaching job after my sophomore year,” she said. The job, which called for teaching sixth through eighth grades came about through an emergency program that allowed high performing college students to teach in rural area.
Under the program, she taught for a year in Rosa, New Mexico, before returning to college and graduating in 1954. Her late husband, Amos Padilla, graduated from ASU three years earlier. “It was a good time; one of the best times of my life,” says Padilla.
While McClure says Adams State has many attractive qualities, one serious draw for prospective students is the school’s tuition schedule. Full-time in-state tuition and fees are just over $8,500 a year. Room and board sits at just under $8,500.
While Adams State sits in isolation in the San Luis Valley and a five hour drive from Denver, it nonetheless continues to turn out serious and well-prepared students. It also has its share of distinguished alumni, including Dr. Julian Samora, Class of 1942. Samora, who established the Mexican-American graduate studies program at the University of Notre Dame, is often referred to as the ‘father of Chicano Studies.’
Other distinguished ASU graduates include Alamosa native and U.S. Federal Judge Carlos Lucero, U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame coach Joe Vigil (425 All-Americans, 87 national champions), William Porter, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management, former U.S. Congressman John Salazar and Raymond G. “Jerry” Murphy, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
There are certain drawbacks to attending Adams State University, not the least of which is the town’s designation as the “coldest place in the United States.” Deep winter temperatures can often hit minus-30 degrees – or worse. But a little cold, says the new president, should not dissuade a prospective student. Adams State and Alamosa, she said, offer an amazing history, culture, and foundation for life after college. “The Valley is not telling its story.” As a newcomer and someone who says she has found a place to set down roots, “I can’t describe the beauty.”