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Meet the Vice President of Research

Meet the VPR

Greetings from Luis Cifuentes

As a Land-grant and Space Grant University, New Mexico State University is committed to creation and dissemination of knowledge that serves the interests of the Nation, New Mexico and students who access the institution. I am honored to join Chancellor Dan Arvizu and President John Floros and Provost Carol Parker in leading the research enterprise at NMSU.  Our team, the staff of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate School, endeavors to grow research and creative activity programs, to enable faculty, scholar, researcher, and student success, to provide steadfast stewardship of sponsor funds, to promote research compliance, and to help communicate the value of NMSU research to all stakeholders. Our ultimate goal is to partner with the community, state and nation and contribute to the educational achievement and economic health of the peoples of New Mexico.

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About the VPR

As Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, Luis Cifuentes endeavors to grow research and creative activity programs, to enable faculty, scholar, researcher, and student success, to provide steadfast stewardship of sponsor funds, to promote research compliance, and to help communicate the value of NMSU research to all stakeholders. Cifuentes is a professor of geology whose research interests include estuarine oceanography, stable isotope geochemistry, and sustainability. He previously served the Texas A&M University System for over 29 years, including seven years of administrative experience at Texas A&M University and an equal number at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi where he served as Vice President for Research, Commercialization and Outreach. Cifuentes led the effort to bring one of six FAA Unmanned Aircraft Systems test sites to Texas, the Lone Star UAS Center of Excellence and Innovation.

Dr. Cifuentes plans to carry this emphasis on research and creative activity into his role as VPR, as he explained in a Q&A about his plans for the Office of the Vice President for Research. 

Interview with VPR Cifuentes

What did you find most compelling about the VPR opportunity at NMSU?

Many things attracted me to NMSU, one of them being where it is. And the fact it connected us to family. My wife's father grew up in the area. From the perspective of being a VPR, this is one of those institutions that is poised to be remarkable. Becoming a Carnegie R1 institution is not just about increasing the number of expenditures and the number of postdocs. It's about becoming a fully comprehensive university that is excellent in everything. That drives me because we know that those universities do an excellent job of graduating successful students.

 

What are your top priorities as VPR? How have these changed since your first year at NMSU?

When I first arrived and based on what I learned during the interview process, I recognized that some administrative, organizational improvements were needed; this was a high priority for me. Another high priority was to ensure that we had the right people doing the right things in the VPR’s office. When I was asked to be the Dean of the Graduate School, priorities expanded. But the fundamental priority of a VPR is the health of the research enterprise. By health I mean simply that the faculty, staff, and students which rely on us are getting the services and support they need. This is a work in progress, but I hope that when we get close to completion if you ask faculty they will tell you that the office is supportive and cares about their success. We aren't there yet, but we are working to get there.

 

What is your vision for the role of research at New Mexico State?

Well, a university is primarily an entity that creates knowledge and disseminates that knowledge, both to its students and to the public. Research is the act of creating new knowledge. That and the excitement that surrounds research, scholarship, and creative activity done by staff, faculty, and students generates a healthy research enterprise. We love to see new ideas, new questions, and of course, new graduates. All of that is inherent in what we're trying to do.

Meet the VPR

How do the Arts and Humanities fit into the research mission at NMSU, and how can Arts and Humanities faculty expect you to support their scholarly pursuits?

I went to a Liberal Arts school for my bachelor's degree, and I grew up in an environment where liberal arts were highly valued. Arts and Humanities must be an integral part of a university. Today, the R1 Carnegie classification clearly requires stronger humanities. It demands that R1 universities be comprehensive. To accomplish this, we must value and support the research scholarship and creative activity within the Arts and Humanities at NMSU. To that end, we are developing plans to invest significantly in the arts and humanities.

How can the VPR and university senior administration build our resources to support research and scholarship with the current financial challenges facing higher education and state and federal agencies?

To begin, we must be willing to put ourselves in the position to be most competitive for external funding. We have to provide the infrastructure that allows people to successfully compete for awards. The other side of the coin is that we have to make it possible for them to successfully implement and deliver on those proposals. That's one area that needs a lot of support. We have to invest not only in the faculty that can help us bring in external funding, but we also have to invest in the people that support the faculty. Including, and very importantly, the graduate students that do a lot of the research. We have to message better the incredible value research universities bring to the State. Hopefully, at some point, the State will better support infrastructure, facilities, and laboratories that are difficult to fund by other means and show greater willingness to support graduate students with areas such as health care. Finally, the VPR’s office has to do a better job of working with the NMSU foundation and improving our footprint with industries and donors willing to give gifts to the research enterprise.

 

How would you describe your leadership style?

Open and I like to surround myself with people that are brighter than I am. I enjoy people that are passionate about the things we are doing. Giving them every opportunity to be creative in the job that they do. When necessary, I am willing to have a top-down approach. There are times when a difficult decision must be made, and I will take full responsibility for my decisions. But if you want to describe what I do, I prefer a flat organization where everybody is heard and respected. At the same time, I recognize that I am the one who has to pull those ideas together and chart the course for the organization.

 

On a personal note, what would the NMSU community be surprised to learn about Luis Cifuentes?

When I was younger, starting at about 12 years old, through college, and a year after college, the thing I loved the most was equestrian sports. I rode English and competed in show jumping and low-level three-day events. I don't think people would look at me and necessarily know that about me. I am proud that my parents never paid for it; except for the initial riding lessons, I worked for it.

Meet the VPR

Please complete this sentence: "I will consider my tenure as VPR at NMSU a success if..."

The person who follows me succeeds and no one misses me. Fundamentally things continue to work. One of the critical elements of leadership is that it can't be personality-driven. You have to create an environment that will work with somebody else or with a different culture. This is something I learned at A&M College Station from Bob Gates who was its President. When he resigned to become Secretary of Defense, everyone said the university was going to crash. But it didn't; organizations must survive changes. The question is, how do they survive? An NMSU research enterprise that continues to excel is the legacy that I wish to leave.