Voter Guide 2019: Race for District 7 seat on college board draws crowded field

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The race for the District 7 seat on the San Juan College Board of Trustees is wide open, with incumbent Dr. Joseph Pope not seeking re-election.

That means Valerie Uselman, Peter Deswood, Olena Erickson and Jennifer Quevedo will vie for the open seat during the Nov. 5 election.

Valerie Uselman

Uselman, a Farmington native, has a wide variety of professional experience, having worked as a teacher, real estate agent and salesperson over the course of her career. She believes she can take what she learned from all three of those jobs and apply them to her hoped-for service on the Board of Trustees.

She would like to see San Juan College increase its outreach efforts to attract as many students as possible.

Valerie Uselman

"I do have, obviously, a deep-rooted interest in the community," she said. "I'm interested in creating opportunities for people, particularly those who may not feel they have opportunities. I think people may not realize the value of education and what it can do for them."

Uselman fully understands that herself, having graduated from Brigham Young University with a double major in Spanish and English, then commuting from Farmington to Durango, Colorado, for two years to earn her teaching certificate from Fort Lewis College.

Her contacts in the business world have left her well-positioned to help determine the future course of the college, she said, as the region struggles to diversify its economy. She promised to keep her ear to the ground and help her fellow board members make informed decisions about what the college can do to assist that process.

"The college could play a very important role for the addition of new industry we could bring to the area," she said.

Uselman noted the significance of the school's 3.5 percent enrollment increase this year after several years of declines. She described that jump as "fabulous" and said the board should continue to work on that.

Peter Deswood

As the principal at Rocinante High School in the Farmington Municipal School District, Deswood already has regular contact with the kind of young people San Juan College is trying to attract.

He said his interactions with those students has led him to conclude that many of them feel they are not being listened to by the adults who make decisions for them, and that is why he is running for the District 7 seat on the college board.

Peter Deswood

"At Rocinante, I've worked hard to give our students a voice and a vote," he said. "I want to know what their needs are."

But Deswood said the beliefs of faculty members and community stakeholders are important, too, and that's why he said he will work hard to promote an inclusive environment at the college if he is elected. He said he already explores issues related to that theme during a podcast he hosts on Native issues.

As a school administrator, Deswood said he also would bring a considerable amount of financial experience to the position, as well as well-honed decision-making skills.

He cited the growth of the dual-credit program at San Juan College as a positive, noting that approximately 70 of his students at Rocinante are accumulating college credits while they earn their high school diploma. That's a good example of the kind of thing San Juan College needs to be doing to be responsive to those it serves, he said.

"Sometimes, we forget to account for those students — what their needs are, what they need to get out of education," he said.

Olena Erickson

Now the holder of a master's degree, Erickson began her post-secondary education career at San Juan College, and still considers her time there invaluable.

"The quality of the education I received there was better than at any other institution," she said. "It prepared me for a job and life. I am so grateful because it changed my life."

Olena Erickson

Erickson went on to build a career for herself in finance, first with the City of Farmington and now with the Farmington Electric Utility System. She says she moved here eight years ago with her husband, a Farmington native, and has fallen in love with the community.

She said she has no complaints with the direction San Juan College has taken in recent years, but she would like to see the school make the jump to the next level, particularly in the area of offering upgraded and increased online education opportunities for international students.

"In terms of quality and prices, it's a great opportunity for international students," she said.

Erickson said the college is deeply important not just to her, but her family, explaining that her daughter, a high school student, is enrolled in the dual-credit program at the school.

"So I have a view from the inside and the outside, and I know enough to know I would be a great candidate for the position," she said.

Jennifer Quevedo

Quevedo did not respond to requests for an interview from The Daily Times and did not supply a photo.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.