One year on the job
July 17, 2019
John Groesbeck last Tuesday marked his one-year anniversary as president of Mesalands Community College. He did nothing special to mark the occasion.
Groesbeck, interviewed Thursday in a conference room next to his campus office, said he took a mental note of that date, but that's about it.
"I thought about it: 'Well, I made it a year; that's great,'" he said. "I think what I actually did was present a thing at a meeting somewhere. I can't remember exactly. It was a fairly routine day."
Instead of looking back, Groesbeck was more animated and energetic in looking forward with his plans and vision for Mesalands since taking over last July 9 from his predecessor, Thomas Newsom, who departed after nearly five years at the helm.
Counting adjunct faculty, Groesbeck estimated about 80 people are employed at Mesalands, making it major player economically in Quay County. It also has trained dozens of students for the region's burgeoning wind-energy industry and other fields, boosting their chances at a brighter financial future.
Long-term, Groesbeck said he aims to double the number of full-time students at Mesalands in the next 10 years.
"There are a lot of moving parts to do that, but it's totally doable," he said. "The accreditation team that recently visited us said it was fully doable. It's a stretch goal, but doable."
Raising the profile
To accomplish the goal of doubling its student population, Groesbeck said Mesalands has to "raise its profile" with lawmakers who fund it and students who may want to enroll.
"It's no secret Mesalands is a fairly small unit in the portfolio of higher-ed institutions in the state, yet we fulfill an important niche with that portfolio," he said. "We need to increase our relevance in the eyes of the funders, legislators and others."
He said a meeting last week at Mesalands with the New Mexico Legislature's Science and Technology Committee illustrated those challenges.
"Several of the legislators had never been to Tucumcari," he said. "It was the first time they'd ever been here, other than to get gas. This is an end of the state that many of those in the Rio Grande corridor never set foot in unless there's a reason to drive over to Texas.
"They were quite pleasantly surprised with all the assets we have and the potential. They'd never connected the dots."
Since becoming president, Groesbeck said he wasn't surprised by much of anything, except the rodeo team was much better known than expected when he attended the College National Finals Rodeo in Wyoming after four Mesalands athletes qualified for it.
"We are a big fish in certain ponds," he said.
Groesbeck said there wasn't much of a learning curve taking over the Mesalands presidency other than figuring out funding cycles. He said this is his third stint in New Mexico, so he understands its social and political dynamics. He said his background in economics and business also proves more helpful, and he can "speak the language" better than, say, a former professor in humanities would.
In short, "it's very, very helpful to have good relationships with those that fund you," he said.
Groesbeck ticked off a list of smaller goals he hopes will raise Mesalands' profile in general:
• Renovate the student-services area in Building A to make it more welcoming. He said the state approved Phase I of the project "in about five minutes," which should streamline the process for Phase II.
• Renovate Building C, which is used for the silversmithing and arts programs. He said the climate-control system in the building is so poor, "you can almost see the breath" of its students during the winter.
• Finalize the Mesalands Housing Alliance in which several Route 66 motels would be used as student housing. He said a former apartment complex that was converted into Stampede Village was "nearly full" the minute the college opened it, showing the need for more student housing.
• Beef up the college's online offerings for digital entrepreneurs and offer a WordPress boot camp. He said WordPress "is the primary ecosystem for e-commerce development for small and medium businesses."
• Use the college's dormant radio-station license to develop student-run and faculty-mentored musical, educational and artistic content not only for the airwaves, but for streaming online as well.
• Improve the Mesalands Dinosaur Museum website so it can offer more products online, including through partnership with Amazon.com.
• Establish several intercollegiate athletics programs, including a golf team.
• Launch a registered-nurse training program. Groesbeck said Mesalands already has all the faculty and most of the equipment needed for it. All it's awaiting is clearance from the state.
• Launch a medical lab technology program. Groesbeck said the college owns "virtually all" of the needed equipment, as well, including a DNA sequencer.
• Adding more services through the recently acquired National Guard armory building. Landing the closed armory had been on the college's priority list for years, but Groesbeck accomplished it in just months. "We did it because I speak economics," he said. "The people at the (New Mexico) Department of Finance, I speak their language, and I was able to convince them."
Groesbeck said some of the goals might spark a "chicken or egg" debate on boosting student enrollment.
"Do we start the programs even though we don't have a lot of students right now? Then again, the students aren't going to come if you don't start the programs. I'm of a mindset we go ahead and push forward."
Groesbeck, who is an Idaho native, pursues a number of hobbies, including hunting and target shooting. One of them he's availed himself more of since moving to Tucumcari is motorcycle dirt bikes.
"I love dirt-bike riding, and I've been an amateur motocross racer over the years," he said. "I bought myself a brand-new motocross bike and go out to Five Mile Park" to ride over the remnants of two former motocross tracks there.
"It's my stress relief," he added. "It's my fitness regimen. It's a lot fun for me."
Groesbeck said at one point in his life, he became bored and worked for a summer as a motorcycle mechanic at a Honda shop.
He says he and his wife, Janette, have enjoyed their time in Tucumcari because of its dry climate, lakes, and mesas.
"I wish more people understood how wonderful this place is," he said.
In his office stands a table where Groesbeck keeps mementos of his interests. One section of the table contains photographs of Elvis Presley and Star Trek figurines; he's a fan of both.
Another section of the table contains a wood carving of the Ten Commandments ("They're very important in my life"). Next to it is an original copy of Chinese dictator Mao Zedong's quotations, called the Little Red Book, published from 1964 to 1976 that virtually every Chinese citizen was required to carry at all times.
Citing his economics background, Groesbeck explained he'd written a thesis about China's conversion from a communistic and socialist government to more of a state-run free-market system. He traveled to China 13 times as part of his research.
When told having the Ten Commandments and atheist Chairman Mao's Little Red Book nearly side by side seemed incongruous, Groesbeck shrugged.
"It's symbolic of my very diverse interests," he said.