Focus on Faces
6/23/2006 1:41:51 p.m. - Hobbs, NM. Cyndi Stephenson, Academic/Career Planner and Adjunct Professor of Interpersonal Communications at NMJC, was nominated by Dr. John Gratton, Vice President for Instruction, as an “outstanding instructor.” For her nomination, Cyndi received inclusion in the Fall 2006 issue of La Herencia, a publication celebrating New Mexico and particularly Santa Fe, the state capital. Cyndi is far more than just an instructor, however; she is a friend who teaches by example, and her students fully credit her for inspiring and motivating them when they have not wanted to continue their education. New Mexico Junior College is extremely proud of Cyndi and what she brings to this institution.
Although Cyndi Vela Stephenson’s official titles at New Mexico Junior College are Academic/Career Planner and Adjunct Professor of Interpersonal Communications, some students refer to her as their inspiration, role model, and even angel.
Stephenson, who has worked at NMJC since 2000, was hired in the Student Support Services program to help counsel students participating in the federally funded TRiO program in regard to their career goals and choices. What she has managed to do, however, goes far beyond a job description; instead, Stephenson inspires students to dream the unimaginable for themselves—and then encourages them to pursue it boldly and wholeheartedly. Legendary for her confidence building and her heartfelt honesty, Cyndi simply does what comes easily and naturally.
One student, Cristina Castillo, insists that Stephenson was not only her advisor and teacher, but also “the strong foundation” for her career. “She told me repeatedly to ‘Never give up’ and to ‘Do what it takes’ to finish my education,” said Castillo. “Cyndi was great in everything she did, whether it was helping me schedule classes or teaching me in a Women’s Studies course. She’s part of the reason I want to become a teacher. I want to be just like her.”
Another student, Krista Ganaway, was equally appreciative of Stephenson and her efforts. “She is amazing,” said Ganaway. “Without her, I wouldn’t have the confidence to do what I’ve done educationally. When I first considered going to college, I felt I had several strikes against me because I wasn’t the typical student. I was 27 years old, had two kids, and was recently divorced. But a friend suggested that I needed to talk to Cyndi about school, so I did. She convinced me to take two classes just so I’d be committed enough to stay. She told me if I didn’t do it, I’d probably never finish.”
“And now,” said Ganaway, “I’m so glad she convinced me to do it that way. My major is radiology, and I’m taking everything I can here at NMJC before I go on to [another college] to finish my degree. She’s my inspiration, and she’s definitely one of the angels here in our little world.”
What’s special about Stephenson’s words of encouragement are that they are far more than mere words. Instead, they’re genuine empathy and identification firmly grounded in past experience and in a philosophy and strong work ethic by which she lives her own life.
As a single mother herself during much of the time she was completing her education, Cyndi found that, out of necessity, she would often have to work several jobs to keep things afloat. On the average, she modestly admits, she worked three to four jobs, once working five different jobs out of necessity. “Nowadays,” she laughs, “I’ve cut back. Now I only work three jobs,” she said, referring to her full-time position at Student Support Services, her adjunct position as professor of interpersonal communication, and her part-time position as mental health counselor at Zia Consulting.
Cyndi’s inspiration to teach and reach others, she insists, came from her own mother, also an educator. “I didn’t think I wanted to be a teacher, but she always encouraged me to. I didn’t plan to go in that direction, but it just sort of happened, and I’m loving it.” Holding an Associate of Arts degree from New Mexico Junior College and a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences from College of the Southwest, Cyndi recently completed her Master of Science in Education degree in Counseling from CSW as well.
Today, when asked if she’ll ever slow down, Cyndi just smiles. After all, it’s a moot point. Everyone knows an angel’s work is never done.