NMSU provost speaks on her non-traditional journey to academia


Courtesy NMSU

First generation collegiate graduate Carol Parker began her work as the provost and vice president of academic affairs of New Mexico State University in July of this year. The journey that led her to become an Aggie started with life on a small dairy farm in Michigan, to graduating from law school, entering collegiate academia and eventually moving to and falling in love with the Southwest region of the United States.

Looking back, Parker explained that her high school education came from a poor community that did not encourage her to attend college, so she decided to work for an auto parts company for two months. However, Parker said she felt as if she needed something more than her post-high school job.

“I wanted more opportunities than I would have with just a high school diploma and college was less important back then than it is now,” Parker said.

She left her job at the auto company and enrolled herself at a community college. During that experience, she said she found her passion for making higher education more accessible to those in the workforce since she struggled to balance academics and having a job herself.

“A big passion of mine is trying to make public research university education more accessible to working adults. So many of our students now, just like me, worked,” Parker said.

Upon completing her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts, Parker began working in an attorney’s office in Michigan and realized her passion for law with a female attorney who worked at her office, Parker said.

“This woman attorney was a big influence on my life. You have to remember this was back when women lawyers were pioneers. Her generation was sort of the trailblazers and I was sort of the next generation behind the trailblazer,” Parker said. “For a woman to be a partner in a law firm was unusual back then.”

Parker earned a master’s degree in information science from the University of Michigan and eventually a J.D. in law from Wayne State University. She obtained her license to practice law in Michigan in 1996.

Although Parker had a passion for law, she said she missed the academic world of public universities shortly after graduation.

“The ironic thing was, once I was actually licensed, I missed the intellectual part of school,” Parker said.

Her first position in academia was in 2003 as faculty member for the College of Law at Michigan State University where she taught legal writing and research and oral arguments. In 2004, Parker relocated to Albuquerque to become an assistant professor of law at the University of New Mexico.

Working at UNM, Parker said, was the beginning of her love for the Southwest region.

“For the first time, I’ve been out in the southwest, and I was just taken away by the region. It’s such a wonderful place to live in with such a high quality of life — and so, the rest is sort of history,” Parker explained.

At UNM, Parker said she completed a year-long fellowship from 2012 to 2013 for aspiring educational administrators, where she attended many workshops and conferences and visited 30 universities across the country.

During the fellowship, Parker was placed at the provost office at Arizona State University and got her foot in the door into the provost world there. Proceeding the completion of her fellowship, Parker left her position at UNM’s School of Law to become the university’s vice provost.

Parker later became the provost and vice president for academic affairs of the University of Texas at El Paso in 2017 before moving to NMSU as provost and vice president of academic affairs.

“El Paso is a nice city and offered a very great quality of life, but I’m so happy to be back in New Mexico — I don’t plan to ever leave,” Parker said.  

As provost and vice president of academic affairs at NMSU, Parker said she provides resources to academic departments and ensures that degree programs are implemented efficiently.

Parker said she is passionate about research universities like NMSU, as these institutions contribute to a wide knowledge pool.

“It’s quite amazing to be in the role of provost to see the breadth of the work that occurs across a research university, meaning that what the faculties research, right, I get insight into their amazing accomplishments. It’s a great privilege,” Parker said.

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