Two scholarships memorializing one of the Mesilla Valley’s most distinguished female leaders will now honor two local students pursuing agricultural and nursing aspirations at New Mexico State University.
The two Emma Jean Cervantes Endowed Scholarships support students studying within NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and the College of Health and Social Services’ School of Nursing. To qualify, recipients must be Doña Ana County natives and have earned at least a 3.0 cumulative grade-point average.
Recent recipients of this award are Benjamin Miller, NMSU senior horticulture student, and Stephen Montoya, NMSU junior nursing student. For Montoya, receiving this scholarship inspired by a woman so pivotal to his community and New Mexico keeps him motivated to work harder.
“My financial stress is lightened, and I can focus on all of my course work,” Montoya said. “Scholarships are the only way that I am getting through college, and without them, I would be in a very different situation than I am now. A scholarship like this keeps me believing that what I am doing is good and worthwhile.”
Helping these students believe in their work is what sparked the need for Emma Jean Cervantes’ family to honor her legacy and lifetime commitment of compassion and philanthropy at NMSU and across the state. One of her three children, Joseph Cervantes, says he and his siblings noticed their mother’s desire to give back at a young age.
“Our mother had a deep love for the southern New Mexico community and a strong bond with New Mexico State University,” Joseph Cervantes said. “Her commitment to health care and agriculture in our region was clear through her service to this community. As children, we saw her passion for nursing and her singular purpose to improve the lives of others, and we wanted these scholarships to honor her legacy.”
Her career started in health care, serving on the NMSU nursing faculty. Of the many notable contributions to her field, Emma Jean Cervantes advanced diversity as the first female and first nurse on the Memorial Medical Center Hospital Board of Directors that she would eventually chair.
Her devotion to health care led to her having an essential role in the creation of the Mesilla Valley Hospice, First Step Center and the Memorial Cancer Treatment Center in Las Cruces.
“She was educated and trained in the medical field and felt a strong responsibility to strengthen the health care available in the local community,” Joseph Cervantes said. “Yet, she was also born into agriculture and genuinely loved the wonderful gifts and experiences that come along with being a member of a rural farming community. There was never really a point in her life that she was not involved in both.”
Her ancestral roots in agriculture growing up on the La Mesa family farm never escaped her passions. She later transitioned into serving as president of both J.F. Apodaca Farms and Cervantes Enterprises Inc., leading women in agriculture and specializing in growing chile peppers used to produce Louisiana-style hot sauce.
She was an original founder of the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum and served 20 years on the Chile Pepper Institute Board of Directors. NMSU later honored Emma Jean Cervantes’ leadership in agriculture with the Philip Leyendecker Agriculturist of Distinction Award in 1996.
“Her involvement in both the health care and farming industries created an opportunity for her to nurture personal relationships with people who, ultimately, provided her with a lifetime of joy and happiness,” Joseph Cervantes said. “Our family has been fortunate to have had the privilege to fund these scholarships and assist the outstanding students who receive them. Certainly, we wish the recipients the best of luck in their chosen career paths and hope they reserve some time for service to their community, remaining actively involved with NMSU after they graduate.”
For more information about this scholarship and others, please visit scholarships.nmsu.edu
Author – Angel Mendez – NMSU