As the second dean of New Mexico’s first Honors College, Miriam Chaiken created an impressive legacy at New Mexico State University.
Chaiken will retire this summer with several accomplishments under her belt. The number of students opting to enroll in honors classes, pursue an Honors Certificate or graduate with University Honors has increased. In May 2018, the college saw 60 percent more students graduating with University Honors than the previous year, and students who enroll in honors classes have better retention and graduation rates overall.
“Over the past six years, the whole team from the Honors College has made great progress in bringing more students into the college, and in building bridges with the other academic colleges on campus,” Chaiken said. “We have created new scholarships to support honors students, and increased our fundraising to support student professional growth by more than 400 percent. We’ve also revitalized our curriculum including creating new courses taught by faculty in every college, and made the college a more vital force.”
During Chaiken’s tenure, the college introduced the Masters’ Accelerated Program in several majors, and created Honors Pathways in majors in every college.
“We really believe in the mission of NMSU to foster student success and social mobility, and we know that finding a ‘home’ in the Honors College is one of the key ways to achieve that goal,” Chaiken said.
Chaiken was selected to head the Honors College in 2014. In her six years, she built on the legacy of her predecessor, William Eamon, and enhanced the visibility of the Honors College on campus. Today, there are more students participating in the college’s programming, including enrolling in courses, living in the freshmen residential community and graduating with the University Honors designation. In May, about 40 students graduated with this designation.
“Miriam Chaiken has taken the Honors College to a new level,” said Tim Ketelaar, associate dean of the Honors College. “She created an environment where students are actively encouraged to go well beyond the normal classroom experience and make the most out of what NMSU has to offer.”
Ketelaar said during Chaiken’s six years as dean, the college has seen substantial increases in fundraising, student engagement and achievement.
“She has more than doubled the number of endowed scholarships for high achieving students, we’ve seen our students win prestigious National Awards at rates comparable to the Ivy leagues, and under her guidance we’ve managed to create an environment for promoting excellence that also promotes access,” Ketelaar said.
In 2020, U.S. News & World Report ranked NMSU among its list of the best public universities that housed an honors college, which offers a “community of like-minded learners” and an abundance of research opportunities.
“As a theatre artist, being a part of the Honors College has been so important,” said Xodia Choate, who graduated in May. “It has held me to a standard of rigorous academic excellence and offered me so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Last semester, I was one of only three Outstanding Undergraduates chosen from the College of Arts & Sciences at NMSU, and that was in part because of the artistic work I had the opportunity to do for my Honors Thesis/Capstone Project. I am so grateful for the opportunities and support I have received from the Honors College.”
Chaiken earned her bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University, and her master’s degree and Ph.D. from University of California in Santa Barbara. She came to NMSU in 2009 after more than 20 years teaching at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Before becoming the Honors College dean, Chaiken was a distinguished achievement professor and academic head of the NMSU Anthropology department.
Chaiken has conducted research in East Africa and Southeast Asia on a variety of issues in economic development. Chaiken’s research has included the changing status of women in developing countries, participatory development, resettlement, and rural health and nutrition. Her research has developed strategies to address food insecurity, health care systems, and the need to improve living standards in rural Africa.
Because of her research experience and her easy-going demeanor, faculty and students in the Honors College had a valuable mentor in Chaiken, said Judith Flores Carmona, a faculty fellow in the Honors College.
“I’m going to miss her as my mentor,” Flores Carmona said. “She is a strong teacher, an excellent professor and a leader who stood up for what is right. She’s leaving a huge legacy of compassion and achievement. She modeled excellence for all of us.”