UNM SPA Holds Inaugural Pi Alpha Alpha Induction Ceremony

April 1, 2022

Artist rendering of Smith Plaza on UNM Campus

The UNM School of Public Administration (SPA) is showcasing its newest Pi Alpha Alpha Honor Society inductees at its first stand-alone induction ceremony.

Director of the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee David Abbey will be the keynote speaker. This is the largest class of inductees in SPA history, reflecting the growing interest in the School as an incubator of up-and-coming public and health administration leaders.

Pi Alpha Alpha (PAA) is the Global Honor Society for Public Affairs and Administration, an extension of the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA). The purpose of Pi Alpha Alpha is to encourage and recognize outstanding scholarship and accomplishment in public affairs and administration.

PAA membership identifies those with the highest performance levels in educational programs preparing them for public service careers. This year, the UNM School of Public Administration is inducting 16 PAA members. The induction ceremony takes place at 4 p.m. on Thursday, May 5 at the Lobo Landing, outside the Student Union Building on the north side. A reception will follow for the inductees and their guests.


Feliz Baca | Public Administration
Feliz Baca (she/her/hers/ella) is a proud Nuevo Mexicana Chicana from Albuquerque. She holds a B.A. in Sociology and Anthropology from Middlebury College in Vermont with a focus on Critical Race Theory and Gender Studies. Baca is in her second year at SPA, where she is pursuing her Master's in Public Administration. 

Most importantly, based on her personal and professional experience, Baca is passionate about social, economic, and racial justice, and she is committed to fighting for justice for children, youth, and families across New Mexico and beyond.

“As I pursue my MPA, I am constantly thinking ‘How will this degree benefit my community?’ For me, no matter what is next, I will always come back to serve my community. It is my greatest hope that with my MPA, I can begin impacting our systems to better serve societies most vulnerable populations so that we aren't merely surviving, but we are thriving.”


Margarita Chavez-Sanchez | Health Administration
Margarita Chavez-Sanchez, M.S., currently serves as the director of the Bernalillo County Department of Behavioral Health Services. She began her employment with Bernalillo County eight years ago as a health and wellness coordinator focusing on county-wide employee wellness. She then became a special projects coordinator and was later promoted to deputy director of the Department of Behavioral Health Services. In that role, she has been pivotal in the coordination and implementation of the Behavioral Health Initiative (BHI) and significant development, implementation, and expansion of behavioral health services county-wide. Chavez-Sanchez received her M.S. in Community Health Education from The University of New Mexico in 2013 and completed a post-grad fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C. Other career highlights include faculty health education instructor at the University of New Mexico and 15 years in a clinical health setting working in local emergency rooms and emergency medical services.

Upon completion of the Master of Health Administration program, Chavez-Sanchez intends to continue her work in the public/community health setting. Through service and leadership at the Department of Behavioral Health Services, she will continue to serve the most vulnerable and marginalized populations in Bernalillo County and the State of New Mexico.


Ashlee Dodd | Health Administration
Ashlee Dodd is an Infection Preventionist at UNM Hospital and a full-time Master of Health Administration student SPA. With more than 16 years in healthcare, Dodd has experience in the clinical lab setting, emergency medical services, health information management, care coordination, and quality program management. Dodd holds a B.S. in Population Health from The University of New Mexico and plans to pursue a doctoral degree in Health Sciences beginning in Fall 2022.

"Working in healthcare in New Mexico has special challenges and obstacles that must be addressed and overcome at every turn. It is my hope that with the knowledge and skills gained in the MHA program that I can help to drive patient safety and other quality measures to new heights for our state, and in doing so better serve the individuals in our communities that need our care and compassion the most." 


Mary Dorado | Public Administration 
Mary Dorado is a New Mexican, born and raised. She currently works as Unit Administrator 3 for the Division of Hospital Medicine at The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. Dorado backs the division’s mission of bringing quality care to New Mexico residents and helps it to become a reality. However, this is just one step in her journey to bring about change.  

“I initially started this program to learn how to be more involved in our community. However, after getting to learn from the incredible professors from SPA and learning what the world of Public Administration really holds, I realized I had found my passion. I want to use this passion to begin working in policy development and program evaluation for our state and local government; I want to be the voice of change for our community.”


Kenneth Vince Solano Garcia | Health Administration
Kenneth Vince Garcia is a mid-level administrator with varied experiences ranging from prior military service (USMC), private sector operations, non-profit health organizations, and rural community health programming. While enrolled at The University of New Mexico's School of Public Administration, Garcia’s primary academic focus was the completion of his Master of Health Administration Degree. Remotely based in Farmington, New Mexico, Garcia was able to apply what he experiences daily in his career towards his program to excel and be recognized as a skilled and proficient student of the practice. Garcia currently works as a Health, Nutrition & Safety Coordinator for Presbyterian Medical Services (PMS). He plans to continue working in the field of community health by means of becoming a future leader in his current organization.           


Natanya Keedah | Public Administration
Natanya Keedah is ‘By the water’s edge clan’, born for the ‘Bitter water clan.’ She is a mother of two teenage boys and wife to a supportive husband.  The family resides in the Navajo Nation. Keedah has worked for 10 years with the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services and feels very blessed to have the opportunity to complete her personal goal of obtaining an MPA. She would like to thank my professors, classmates, family, and friends for their knowledge, skills, and support.

Sitting Bull said: ‘Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.’  My hope is that we continue to work together to meet the needs of our communities.”


Nicholas Maestas | Public Administration
Nicholas Maestas, a native of Albuquerque, is in his third year at SPA and is expecting to graduate in May 2023. He is a full-time Field Representative for a member of the U.S. Senate, where he works with local governments in New Mexico to bridge national efforts with local needs. He volunteers on the governance board of a local charter school and was an elected member of the Public Administration Graduate Student Association (PAGSA) as a representative in the Graduate and Professional Students Association (GPSA) during the 2020-2021 academic year. In this role, Maestas represented SPA students’ interests and supported graduate students from across UNM with resources needed to highlight their professional research at national conferences; as well as support the local community through service projects on-campus and in the Albuquerque area. 

With his Master’s in Public Administration, Maestas plans to improve local communities through administrative capabilities, professional networking, and leveraging national resources to support local needs. The SPA program has equipped him with the capabilities to be a knowledgeable resource to the community.  

He values the connections with talented peers and the unique perspective of faculty and will carry his experience throughout his career. 


David C. Saavedra | Public Administration
Saavedra is a native New Mexican who was born in Grants and transplanted to the big city of Albuquerque. He is a first-generation college graduate working toward being a two-time Lobo with a Master of Public Administration degree from SPA. Saavedra holds a B.S. in Public Communications with a minor in Business Administration, also from UNM. He serves as the President of the Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA), the state of New Mexico’s only graduate and professional student government. 

Saavedra plans on taking his education and experience with him as he transitions from student to a career in public service. He has always known that he wanted to serve the state of New Mexico and has tailored his education to be able to do so. Saavedra chose this field because public servants and leaders in the public sector have the ability to touch the lives of people around them through hard work, determination, and the desire to make a difference. 


Jacinto-Temilotzin Sanchez | Public Administration
Sanchez is a Chicano born in El Paso, Texas but says his roots are New Mexican, from both parents' sides. He is a single father of two teenage boys, Jacinto Jr. and Jullan, and feels blessed to guide them during these crucial years. Sanchez retired from the Army in 2018 and has since been going to school, starting at Central New Mexico Community College where he received my Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts, then transferring to UNM where he also did a study abroad in Ecuador and Perú. He obtained his bachelor's in Liberal Arts, cum laude, in Spring 2021 while completing his first year of the Masters in Public Administration, which he will receive in Spring 2022.

“After graduation, I will be returning for the summer to Perú to visit and put my degree to work with some nonprofits there. I hope that I can bring back to Albuquerque some valuable experiences.”


Jason Sharp | Public Administration
On his 40th birthday, Jason Sharp returned to school to finish his college education with the hope to create new career opportunities for him and his family. A lifelong New Mexican, Sharp realized that his options to advance his career were limited and he had hit a “glass ceiling” without a college education. A few years later, Sharp is an honors graduate from CNM, with an Associate’s degree in Business Administration, and a Summa Cum Laude graduate with Bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts with a minor in Management from UNM. Sharp will be graduating in the Spring of 2022 with his Master's degree in Public Administration. During this time, Sharp also served on the board of directors for a non-profit organization.

“Once I started back to school, a spark of confidence and ambition was ignited within me. I received promotions at work and was recognized for my community involvement. UNM has been such a great school and a great experience for me. I have made new friends and enjoyed learning from the excellent professors and curriculum at the school. This past fall, I chose to leave my former employer, after working there for the past 20 years to find new opportunities. I found a new career that has rewarded me for my years of experience, my education, and my drive for results. I couldn’t be happier. Now I hope to leverage my MPA degree to help me pursue my goals of becoming a senior leader or executive in the health care field.”


Nao Shibata | Public Administration 
Nao Shibata was born and raised in Japan, Fukuoka, before pursuing her public administration degree and graduating in December 2021 with a 4.04 GPA. While attending the SPA as a full-time student, Shibata was selected and participated in the 2020 NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition, completed an internship at the City of Albuquerque in Fall 2020, and received Albert H. Rosenthal Endowed Professorship in Public Administration in Fall 2021. 

She also previously served as Grant Co-Chair at GPSA and worked as Incoming Exchange Program Assistant at Global Education Office. With more than ten years of professional experience in higher education institutions in Japan and the U.S., she is passionate about supporting the international student community. In her free time, Shibata loves to bake, cook international dishes, travel, and hike trails with her husband and an 11-month-old baby boy, Tyga.

“The last three years with SPA have been a wonderful journey in my life. I am excited to continue pursuing my interests in the non-profit world to support local and the international student community. One of my favorite memories that made me feel part of the SPA program is walking around the campus with my fellow students during the Hanging of the Greens after the famous ‘SPA Jingle, Mingle, & Mix’ event.”


Rachel Whitt | Public Administration
Originally from New Mexico, Rachel Whitt loves living in Albuquerque and spending time in the mountains. On the weekends you can catch her hanging out with her two dogs (Dobby and Winky, the house pups), doing a home improvement project, or lounging with a good book and a cup of coffee. Whitt’s family and community are her priorities and she pursued Public Administration to be a more effective and empathetic leader, both professionally and personally.

“The UNM School of Public Administration gave me so much more than just a degree– it also provided me with an expanded professional network, lifelong friendships, and the confidence to pursue new challenges and opportunities. I will certainly miss the weekly meetings with the personable, encouraging, and knowledgeable faculty and staff. Someday, I hope to return to UNM SPA as an adjunct faculty member to continue being part of this amazing community!”


Sarah Winger | Health Administration
Proud New Mexican and first-time Lobo, Sarah Winger is a health administration student planning to graduate in December 2023.  As Director of Behavioral Health Clinical Services at UNMH Psychiatric Centers, Winger is passionate about increasing access and availability of quality behavioral health services for all New Mexicans. Winger holds M.A in Counseling from Adler Graduate School in Minnesota and a B.S. in Psychology from Northern Arizona University. She is inspired by the quote “People who are hopeful enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that actually do.”

Winger works passionately to create positive and meaningful change in our community. 

Credit: UNM Newsroom