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Passing the torch, $33 at a time

Dr. Priscilla Bloomquist’s Commitment to Service Continues into Retirement Through an Endowed HRTM Alumni Scholarship

Antonia Roybal-Mack was an incoming New Mexico State University freshman when she first met Dr. Priscilla Bloomquist. Their relationship bloomed and continues to deepen to this day. “She took me under her wing early on and has definitely been an incredible mentor,” the Albuquerque attorney said. “She has always encouraged me to do more.”

Bloomquist ably played a similar role for countless Aggies who majored in Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management for more than three decades. “She was the steward of so many students,” Roybal-Mack remarked. “You ask any student in the last 33 years, and they will know Dr. Bloomquist. She was more than willing to mother us when we needed mothering—and to tell us when we were wrong.”

Unsurprisingly, many Aggies wanted to honor their beloved professor’s legacy when she announced her retirement in 2021. Remaining true to her commitment to service, Bloomquist invited former and current students, colleagues, and others to donate $33 (marking the length of her tenure as an NMSU faculty member) to the Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management (HRTM) Alumni Endowed Scholarship, through the NMSU Foundation.

The fundraising began in March of 2021, and a final boost of giving in October brought the scholarship over the finish line resulting in a fully endowed permanent scholarship, now worth more than $29,000.

“This means there will be sustainable monies in this department for scholarships and those scholarships will be given in the name of the alumni of that department,” said Roybal-Mack, who originally created the scholarship fund. “New students can see this bridge that the alumni created for them to walk across. They also learn that they need to create a similar bridge for those students coming behind them.”

Committed to Service

Bloomquist’s life offers many lessons about the importance of building bridges. Her parents, both Purdue University graduates, had the expectation that their seven children also would attend college. Their second youngest child didn’t disappoint, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But thanks to the part-time jobs she held during college, her time in Madison completely changed her career trajectory. “I had the opportunity to work for two independent restaurant operators and I just fell in love with the industry,” Bloomquist said. “While I was there, one of the restaurant owner/operators was familiar with the University of Wisconsin-Stout, which had a very large hotel/restaurant management program. They were pretty insistent that I was meant to be in this field and I should go on and get a degree there.”

The owner went so far as to request materials from UW-Stout and then passed them on to Bloomquist. “When I was working on my degree in economics, I had taken some classes that had just tangentially touched on the role of tourism development as a form of economic development,” she said. “That was intriguing to me, and the University of Wisconsin-Stout had some renowned faculty in tourism.”

While her graduate course work proved engaging, Bloomquist discovered another passion when the UW-Stout department head approached her about teaching the Introduction to Hospitality course. “It was a huge class—over 100 people—in one of those daunting lecture halls,” Bloomquist remembered. “Not knowing any better, I said, ‘Sure, I’ll do it.’ I just fell into the teaching side and found I really enjoyed it.”

After graduation, she joined UW-Stout’s faculty for one year before her department head encouraged the promising young faculty member to consider a position at NMSU, which was in the process of launching its HRTM program in 1988. “I really didn’t like cold weather. I was raised in Wisconsin and was always eager to get someplace warmer,” she said. “I thought, ‘It’s definitely warmer in New Mexico!’ I knew very little about New Mexico.” Her first trip to interview at NMSU helped her realize that she had found a new home. “I fell in love immediately with the institution, the people and the culture, and was excited by the idea of working in a land-grant university,” she said.

Working closely with HRTM Founding Director Ron Cox, Bloomquist savored the opportunity to help guide the development of the fledgling program into a well-respected school. She also earned her doctorate in Educational Management from NMSU and has generously supported HRTM through payroll deduction since 1996.

She’s embraced every opportunity that NMSU has offered. In turn, she’s enjoyed helping Aggies—and especially first-generation students—take the next steps into adulthood. “The faculty here take on a different role than in other institutions,” she said. “There’s a lot more teaching outside of the classroom.”

The professor also has proudly watched her students’ careers unfold over the years. “It’s exciting to see how well so many of our students have done,” Bloomquist said. “Even if they end up going in a different direction, many will tell you the hospitality industry is a great training ground for other careers.”

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A Continual Influence

Roybal-Mack was one of those students who changed course after graduation. After briefly managing an Olive Garden, she decided to pursue a career in law—and has since been recognized as Best of the Bar by New Mexico Business Weekly and has been the recipient of the Outstanding Young Attorney Award by the New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association, and the Henrietta Pettijohn Award from the New Mexico Women’s Bar Association.

Even as she enjoys significant professional success, she still considers her NMSU advisor to be one of her most important role models. “At the time (I was in school), Dr. Bloomquist was married, pregnant, and starting her career,” the mother of three said. “It was the first time I had seen that women could be successful at these high-level positions while still being a wife and a mother. She did all of that very gracefully.”

The founder of Roybal-Mack & Cordova, PC also tries to emulate her mentor’s commitment to service, including starting the endowed scholarship fund. That decision was based on her own experience as one of nine siblings in her family. Since she was attending college at the same time as many of her siblings, Roybal-Mack didn’t have extra money during college—but she was able to graduate with minimal student debt. She wants future Aggies to be in the same financial position at the end of college.

The benefit of having bridges also continues to inform Roybal-Mack’s relationship with Bloomquist. For example, the attorney is counting on her former professor to help her prepare to teach HRTM’s Hospitality Law classes in Spring 2022, which Bloomquist taught when Roybal-Mack was a student. The women are savoring the opportunity to spend quality time together again. “She’s retired, but she’s still stewarding us through,” Roybal-Mack said. “She’s always there.”

Contributions to the HRTM Alumni Endowed Scholarship can be made by CLICKING HERE.