DATE: April 26, 2023
The New Mexico State University (NMSU) College of Health, Education and Social Transformation (HEST) today held a ribbon cutting for the newly named Papen-Aprendamos Autism Diagnostic Center in O’Donnell Hall, as well as the newly named Aprendamos Intervention Team, P.A. Lecture Hall.
Abel Covarrubias ’96, who provided major funding for the Papen-Aprendamos Autism Diagnostic Center, headlined the event, along with former state Senator Mary Kay Papen who first proposed the facility through legislation. Other faculty members from the College of HEST who were present include Dean Yoshi Iwasaki, Associate Dean Phil Post and Department Chair Heike Lehnert-LeHouillier. NMSU Provost Alan Shoho and Stacey MacDonnell, interim vice president of development for the NMSU Foundation, also attended.
“It has always been my goal to make a difference in the lives of others, and creating this center is clearly a dream come true for giving back and helping those in need,” said Covarrubias. He is the founder and CEO of the Aprendamos Family of Services, which provides early intervention services for children aged 3 and younger and their families, as well as additional services for individuals and families of all ages.
In Spanish, “Aprendamos” means “let’s learn,” and pays tribute to the center’s focus on training NMSU students and multiple community organizations to diagnose and treat autism. Staff-initiated autism specific evidence-based training is also offered for parenting children with disruptive behaviors, as well as increasing teen social skills.
Through Covarrubias’ contributions, a lecture hall inside O’Donnell Hall was refurbished, upgraded and renamed. In addition to classes in health, education, and social transformation, the classroom is also used for meetings of student organizations and many other activities across campus. Apart from this gift, Covarrubias and his wife together created an endowed scholarship in education, as well as the Aprendamos Intervention Team Endowed Scholarship.
Other Aprendamos contributors include Danny Palma, Monica Marrujo, Kerry Linnan, Kerry Palma-Szalay, Dean Palma, and Bryan Tierney—many of whom are alumni of the NMSU Communication Disorders Program.
“Abel is a well-respected champion of serving our children and families across neighboring communities with his caring kindness, empathy, and humility,” said Dean Iwasaki. “We are very grateful for his courageous transformative leadership, which has been instrumental for the success of Aprendamos Families of Services with six facilities and 240 employees and subcontractors, serving over 2,000 families every day, using a hybrid model of in-person and telehealth services.”
Covarrubias received his bachelor’s degree in biology from NMSU in 1996, followed by a master’s degree from the communication disorders department in 1998. He was selected as the NMSU Alumni Association’s 2019 Distinguished Alumnus for the college and is active on various boards, including the College of HEST Transition Advisory Board and the College of HEST Dean’s Advisory Board.
“It is because of generous people like Abel Covarrubias that the NMSU Foundation is able to build pathways to the future for so many NMSU students and members of our community,” said David Strong, Interim President, NMSU Foundation. “We appreciate Abel’s willingness to give something back to the place where it all started for him, and to leave a legacy of education and transformation.”
The Papen-Aprendamos Autism Diagnostic Center is the only center in southern New Mexico providing evaluations for the medical diagnosis of autism. The center consists of a large, interdisciplinary team experienced in autism, differential diagnosis and comorbid conditions across all age ranges.