Meet Pamela Agoyo, Board of Trustees Member
Meet Pamela Agoyo, Board of Trustees MemberKemba Dunham, Senior Director, Internal Communications
The College Board’s Native American Student Advocacy Institute (NASAI) conference kicked off on June 6. This annual opportunity to discuss new solutions, share best practices, and collaborate with colleagues to make a difference in the lives of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian students is particularly important to Board of Trustees member Pamela Agoyo. Agoyo is the director of American Indian Student Services and special assistant to the president for American Indian Affairs at the University of New Mexico (UNM). She is also of Kewa, Cochiti, and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo ancestry, and she has over 20 years of experience in student support services, scholarship and financial aid services, college readiness programming, and student retention initiatives.
Agoyo spoke to All Access about her work, the challenges native students face, and her “sweet” plan for retirement.
All Access: How critical is it for the College Board to engage the native population?
Pamela Agoyo: It’s extremely critical. I think native students — and districts serving high populations of native students — have been overlooked. Right now, the College Board is focused on ensuring that all students have access to a world-class education and this has tremendous positive impacts for native communities. It’s really refreshing that in my ten years of engagement with the College Board, I’ve seen a consistent evolution of and focus on the attention paid to native students. I’m happy the organization is committed to ensuring that all students have access to its wonderful tools.
AA: What are some of the specific issues that could get in the way of native students challenging themselves to own their future?
PA: I live in New Mexico, and it’s often referred to as the heart of Indian country. We have 22 tribes — about 10% of the population — which is a high concentration compared to other states.
Geography plays a critical role when discussing challenges. Many of schools and school districts serving native students are located in very rural areas. Access is the primary, driving challenge students face. We live in a technological world, and many of the programs we deliver are tied to online components, so remoteness becomes a problem.
Deeper than that is our ability to offer advanced curricula, like Advanced Placement courses. Many schools on or near tribal reservations don’t have the fiscal resources or the expertise to provide AP. That’s key because we know the success of college students is tied to the rigor of the courses they had in high school, and I see AP as one way to address that.
AA: What is the most fulfilling aspect of your job at UNM?
PA: I would say first and foremost that no two days are alike; the diversity of the daily experience is an exciting component!
I love meeting students coming in as freshmen, being a part of their journey at this institution, and then seeing them walk across the stage at commencement. Our American Indian convocation at UNM was just a few weeks ago, and it was fulfilling to see how students have evolved, grown, and changed before my very eyes. I enjoy seeing them get to the finish line and observing their families and tribal leaders support them.
In my role as special assistant to the president, I also get to advise the institution’s leadership on ways we can better engage tribal communities and develop university research, scholarship, and student-support services.
AA: How does your College Board Board of Trustees role support or enhance your efforts at UNM?
PA: It does so in numerous ways. We have to get students college-ready and also provide meaningful and effective support once they arrive on our campus, and the College Board’s vast resources really help. The diversity conferences, for instance, have been key within our division of student affairs. We have departments focused on African-American students and Latino students, and I’ve been able to expose my colleagues within those areas to much of the College Board’s programming for those students. It’s been a really important education process and opportunity. They are now informing their own staff and the wider student affairs directorship on how we can do a better job as an institution of exposing all of the populations we work with to opportunities and information. We even have a “Men of Color” initiative that started after NASAI was held at UNM in 2014; the College Board has provided some great models of how we can do better as an institution.
AA: Was there a particular moment in your upbringing that set you on your career trajectory?
PA: First, I’ll say that I’m a native New Mexican. My home community, Ohkay Owingeh, was actually the first capital of the state of New Mexico — a lot of people don’t know that. It was one of the first points of contact with the Spaniards. Our community was the first to be exposed to the people who came here and changed the course of our history in terms of colonization. The word "Ohkay Owingeh" means “the place of the strong people.” So I come from a place where strength and resilience have been the core and center of our community.
When I a kid, I wanted to be a child psychologist when I grew up. I thought if I could help people deal with their problems, I could make an impact.
As an undergraduate at UNM, I double-majored in sociology and psychology, but I also needed to work. My first day on campus, my mom accompanied me to my work-study interviews, and I was quickly hired by the student affairs division. That started my career in this arena. So while I always wanted to help folks, working in students affairs gave me the opportunity to focus on students, and I’ve had the pleasure of doing that specifically with native students for 15 years.
AA: Share a fun fact about yourself.
PA: My little side passion is making desserts and candy. I’ve perfected a number of different kinds of desserts, including a cupcake frosting everyone says tastes delicious!
When I leave higher ed and retire, I want to open a place that sells desserts only, nothing else. I’m envisioning a place where people go after dinner for something sweet to top off their evening or day. I’m also trying to perfect some traditional desserts from my community. I’m learning from the older and more experienced women in my family right now. I’m receiving “passing” marks, but I haven’t gotten an A+ yet.