Student Speakers

photo of Christina Albright

Christina "Christy" Albright, PhD

Our Journey Together 

I titled my speech “our journey together” because I believe I have not made this academic journey alone. I started this portion of my academic journey in the Fall of 2012, just about 10 years ago. My husband Robert was extremely supportive. He helped me think about the work in my classes, helped me process thoughts for papers, and delighted in telling our friends I was working on my Ph.D. Sometimes, he’d joke that he was a UNM widower when my coursework would overwhelm our plans. Little did we know that before the journey was complete, I would literally become a widow. Robert died, after a long illness, in December of 2017.   

 Throughout this journey of academics and life, my professors, friends, and colleagues have been a source of inspiration, a safe place for deep conversations, and much needed support. My advisors Patsy Boverie and Fran Wilkinson helped to guide my academic journey. Dr. Wilkinson made the mid-point review and dissertation journey with me. My committee members have included, over the progression of my dissertation, Patsy, Fran, Gary Smith, Victor Law, Eliseo Torres, and Marc Davidson. This team helped to guide my thinking, processing, and the sometimes overwhelming work of researching and writing. My dissertation was a unique look at my grief journey and the interplay of psychological capital, that is, hope, efficacy, resiliency, and optimism. I used the research method of autoethnography, which means I had to be both the researcher and the one who was being researched. It was difficult, but I learned a lot about myself along a way. 

Friend and colleagues, both at UNM and at my workplace in the Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education Board Services Office, pushed me to be my best, helped me to navigate class projects, and nurtured and nourished me with support. 

I would not have made it to this goal of graduation, however, without my family. My sister, Clarissa Sorensen-Unruh, who is also in the OILS PhD program, my sister-in-law, Karen, my nephew, Jack, my parents, Ken and Annette Sorensen, and my best friend, Kathryn Faturos, have been a lifeline, a sounding board, and at times, the strength I needed to keep moving forward.  

Robert’s health issues and eventual death, the significant health issues of other loved ones, my own health issues, taking full time classes, and working a full-time job have, to be honest, been at times, an overwhelming part of the journey. The academics were always interesting and challenging, but the mix of academics and life was almost enough, several times, to make me rethink continuing. Investing myself fully in a topic I love, while trying to live, work, and sometimes just survive, has been both incredibly challenging, and filled with incredible blessings. Blessings of learning, of friendship, of growth, of understanding myself better, of seeing the world differently because of the relationships and research have been abundant.    

You’ve each had significant life experiences during this journey too. You’ve found friends and family who could help you along the journey and some who could not. You’ve found ways to push yourselves beyond what you thought you could do. You’ve tried to balance play, work, relationships, and rest. You’ve found that sometimes the journey you envisioned was not at all what transpired and that sometimes that was a gift in disguise.   

I’m so thankful for the stories and experiences we’ve shared, for the classes we’ve taken together, the aha’s we’ve had, and the experiences of changes in jobs, relationships, and physical ability we’ve lived through with one another. And I know there are also some things we have experienced in a quiet place, completely on our own. Those moments have been part of our journey together too.  

So, what lies ahead? I have absolutely no idea, and honestly, that is part of the adventure of the journey we each take. Each of us has extraordinary abilities to think, to do, to create, and to engage. And as I learned from my research, each of us has internal replenishable resources of hope, efficacy, resiliency, and optimism. Those resources and abilities will help us through the journey ahead.   

So, as I close, I want to encourage you to continue to share yourself with the world, as you have done with me. You have influenced my life, and I know you have opportunities ahead of you to influence many more lives. May the journey ahead be one of learning, joy, discoveries, and love.  





photo of Melissa herrera

Melissa Herrera, MA

Celebrating YOU!  

Good afternoon everyone. First off, congratulations to the class of 2022. Your hard work the past few semesters has finally paid off.  

Over the past two years, many organizations and the media have used resilience to describe people who have dealt with the events of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Merriam-Webster, resilience is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” I’m not here to talk about how resilience got us through the pandemic. However, I am here to congratulate you for being resilient and continuing to pursue your education.  

Receiving a master’s degree is no easy feat. From the interactions I’ve had with many of you, I learned that many of you have full-time jobs, families, and other commitments.  It was a change for many of you to dedicate time to reading, meeting with peers to work on group assignments, and writing papers. Some of you may have even sacrificed some family time in certain situations. For many people, the thought of “giving up” things temporarily seem irrational or unattainable. Yet, all of you are examples that it is not impossible. In fact, these temporary changes motivated you to work hard and get through each course. Even on the days where the workload felt heavy, you did not give up but kept pushing harder. That is something to always be proud of.   

So, whenever you have one of those days, remember that you can do it. You are the epitome of resilience, a role model among your children, family, community, and co-workers. I hope that you can encourage others to be resilient through patience, compassion, and empathy.  

With that, I leave you with this quote from Eric Greitens: “We all have battles to fight. And it’s often in those battles that we are most alive; it’s on the frontlines of our lives that we earn wisdom, create joy, forge friendships, discover happiness, find love, and do purposeful work.”  

Thank you and I wish you all the best of luck on your journeys! 


photo of Sierra ArmstrongSierra Armstrong, MA

The Educational Journey

Good afternoon faculty and Graduates. I am honored to have the opportunity to speak on such a momentous occasion.
Much of my life, thus far, has been dedicated to education. Since I was 18 years old, I have been a teacher in some form or other—as a volunteer, and as a professional; working with the poverty-stricken and the affluent; from children to elderly students. Education has shaped who I am and my worldview. Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that pursuing an education is one of the most hopeful acts that an individual can do. It requires one to recognize where they are in life, acknowledge where they want to be, and then trust that an education will get them there. That decision, and the determination that follows it, has the power to break-down barriers, overcome generational obstacles, and raise one to a height they could not achieve on their own.

So, I think it is appropriate today in this graduation as we take pause to reflect on the work we have accomplished—and recognize the professors that have guided us along the way—to consider the educational journey of a student. That journey begins with the decision to go to school, or go back to school, and while that might sound simple, I have found that it rarely is for any student. Graduates, I wish we were together today, and I could ask you why you started your program in the first place. What was the catalyst that sent you on your journey? I am certain we would find that no two individuals would have the same story to share. Each of us had a different prior journey that brought us to UNM and to the OILS program, with different backgrounds and reasons that prompted us to take those first steps. And isn’t that another beautiful aspect of education—bringing together individuals from all walks of life to learn from and with each other.
Making the decision to go to school, of course, is only the first step. There are many more steps that have to follow, most of which include long nights and weekends spent getting that big assignment in by the 11:59pm deadline. Every student that embarks on the educational journey knows it is one of sacrifice and challenges—I have yet to find anyone who was able to get around that. If you’re lucky, you have a team of people in your circle supporting you and cheering you on. And sometimes, it’s just you with your own grit and pure determination. For myself, I have been blessed with a supportive family, as well as mentors who are both life-long educators and friends. They were constant sources of encouragement through the hard days—and despite the hope, grit, and determination, every student has hard days. To all of us here, I hope that we will go on to be a supporter, motivator, and advocate for education throughout our lives.

As students in the OILS programs, we have dedicated ourselves to the learning sciences, and in many ways to being life-long learners. In working with so many of you over the last several semesters, I have had the opportunity to hear and see your enthusiasm for helping others learn, as well as your desire to have a positive impact in your workplace, organization, or classroom. Thank you. Thank you for putting in 100% on group assignments. Thank you for posting something I could work with on discussion boards. Most importantly, thank you for teaching me.

It is bittersweet to be at the end of a chapter. Yet, while this educational journey is coming to a close, there is always the opportunity for another to begin. At a convocation ceremony like this, we naturally focus on formal educational mile-markers like degrees earned, but as life-long learners we know that much of our learning takes place in casual, informal life lessons every day. My hope for each of us is that we never stop being a student. Never stop being fascinated, or curious, and never be afraid to pursue an unknown answer. Graduates, wherever your journey takes you to next, I hope you keep on learning.

photo of Mario GarciaMario Garcia, BS 

Hey everybody! I want to thank the UNM OILS faculty for asking me to speak with you all today. I am humbled and honored to be here. To be honest, it feels surreal to be here and to finally have completed this portion of my journey! Third time is the charm for me. I graduated from high school in 1998 which if my math is correct would have been before the average college graduate today was born.

So often when we graduate from high school there is a pressure to go to college and decide who we are and what we are going to do. That is a lot of pressure! Life, as we all know, oftentimes has other things in store for many of us. There are detours, some fun and not so fun that can take you off the straight road to graduating college and earning that degree.
Many of us here today are living proof that that is ok!

So, I tried to go to college when I first got out of high school but it was not the right fit for me and so I went to work, I fell in love. I moved across the country. I worked in a bookstore. I learned to make coffee drinks. I packed bike parts and shipped them all over the country. I got to learn all about the interesting world of mortgage documents! I went on tour playing drums in a punk band and got to visit 45 of the 50 states! I moved back to New Mexico. I tried school again. It still was not right! It was better but it still was not quite right. I went through an electrical apprenticeship and learned a trade. I made my way through the ranks and became a supervisor. I still felt like I was not the best Mario I could be yet.

Then a friend of mine told me about a program he was taking courses in that was online only. It was called OILS. OILS? I decided to check out what the school with the funny acronym was all about.

Third time is the charm! This felt right. Reading about the OILS program and who it was designed for it felt like I had found an academic home. I could see myself juggling the coursework while working over forty hours a week and getting to spend time with my wife and three kids and sometimes getting to do that one thing. What’s it called? Oh yeah. Sleep.
Making my way through the coursework in the OILS program I quickly found out that I was not alone when it came to getting to this point and achievement in a not so straightforward approach. It was a great comfort to get to know my fellow students over the year and find that common ground. I truly believe that this is one of the things that sets the OILS program apart from other schools and classes I have participated in over the years.

Everyone that I worked with on projects and spoke to in the discussion boards all had something in common that I found to be amazing. They all wanted to be here; they were driven to succeed. I found this to be especially true of some of the folks who were returning to school mid-career. They were looking to be the best version of themselves. They wanted more. The OILS program gives that opportunity.

Learning is something that we never stop doing. Being a graduate of the OILS program means that you have all read that phrase at some point. What does that mean for us now that we are graduating? Now is when the fun begins. We all get to take the knowledge and experience we have received and help others in the world learn. We get to design and create what learning looks like. I think that this is amazing. The skillsets we all have developed will never go out of style if someone out there needs to learn how to do their job, whether it is making a hamburger or designing a supercomputer. We get to facilitate the learning journey from point A to point B.

I am grateful to all the professors and faculty who have given their time and effort to help me, I know I stumbled along the way and sometimes felt like throwing in the towel again but every time I needed some advice or help, they were there for me, just as I am sure they have been there for all of us.

I want to thank my wife, Jessi, who was always supportive of the time it took to achieve this. I want to thank my kids for always inspiring me to be the best me I can be. I hope I set a good example for them in persevering in life.
In closing, I am so proud of this accomplishment, and I am proud of all of you for getting here and this achievement! We all worked a great amount, and no one can ever take this from us. Class of 2022 OILS!