Tomás Salazar


Tomás Salazar
2017 Distinguished Alumnus

Tomás Salazar, the first Hispanic from New Mexico to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of New Mexico, is a lifelong education leader and former dean of Highlands’ College of Arts and Sciences.

Salazar is also a New Mexico legislator, serving with distinction since 2013 in the House of Representatives for District 70, which includes portions of San Miguel, Santa Fe and Torrance Counties.

He serves on the House Education and House Appropriations and Finance Committees and chairs the Higher Education Subcommittee.

“As a legislator, I’m dealing with very serious issues,” Salazar said. “My challenge is to have the wisdom to make decisions that will help New Mexicans.”

Salazar earned mathematics degrees from Highlands, 1965, the University of Montana, 1969, and his Ph.D. from UNM, 1976.

“What I find so appealing about mathematics is that, as a discipline, it is very logical and structured, yet it allows for creative, critical thinking,” Salazar said.

The native of Chapelle, a village in central San Miguel County, started his education in a one-room school. Salazar is the first in his family to complete college.

“My Highlands professors were excellent, taking a personal interest in my learning and preparing me for teaching and graduate school,” Salazar said.

Salazar began his career teaching secondary math and science in New Mexico. After completing his Ph.D., he joined the mathematics faculty at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, achieving tenure and promotion to associate professor.

“I greatly enjoyed every teaching assignment. The belief that you’re affecting the future as a teacher and mentor is very gratifying. My goal was to help students reach their potential,” Salazar said.

His dream of returning to Highlands came true in 1992, when Salazar was hired to direct the Science Education Resource Center and teach mathematics and computer science in the School of Education, achieving tenure and promotion to full professor.

“I’ve always been extremely concerned with the well-being of economically disadvantaged populations. I wanted to increase the number of minorities and rural students who successfully entered science and mathematics disciplines, which was the impetus in garnering a number of National Science Foundation and other grants aimed at improving K-12 math and science education” Salazar said.

Salazar served as the College of Arts and Sciences dean from 1996 until his retirement in 2003. He achieved the honor of Highlands professor emeritus.

“As dean, I had the opportunity to work with faculty across many disciplines in areas ranging from personnel matters to accreditation,” Salazar said.

After retiring, Salazar became a leader in organizations like the New Mexico Association of Educational Retirees, Habitat for Humanity, and AARP.

“After nine years volunteering, I decided I could make a greater impact by serving as a policymaker at the state level,” Salazar said. Voters returned him to a third term in 2016.

“Dr. Salazar’s motivation has always been to help others,” said Rebecca Baca, a former Highlands colleague who nominated Salazar for the homecoming award. “He constantly researches and seeks ways to assist others in need.”