Horticulture Instructor Wins Prestigious STEM Award

Paul Polechla is helping to educate and motivate the next generation of farmers and environmentalists
June 28, 2022

Paul Polechla has a Ph.D. in zoology and taught at colleges and universities across the country including Eastern New Mexico University, the University of Alaska–Fairbanks, Louisiana State University, and the University of Arkansas. But after landing at CNM he decided to pursue his passion for plants and began teaching horticulture instead.

“I’ve been a zoologist for a long time, but I’ve continued my interest in plants because plants create habitats for animals, and they create food and oxygen which are needed for all living things,” Paul says.

Paul says he was inspired to teach horticulture after getting involved with CNM’s Compost and Gardening Committee, which helped create a “Welcoming Path” utilizing native plants on CNM’s Main Campus back in 2016. He also saw teaching horticulture as an opportunity to help combat the growing effects of climate change on the world’s food supply.

“The average farmer is in their 60s and they’re not getting any younger. It’s time for that older generation to pass the torch to the new generation so that we can remain self-sufficient and we’re not reliant on another state or country for our food,” Paul says.

Now, not only does Paul spearhead the horticulture class at CNM, but thanks to all his hard work he won the Higher Ed Program of the Year distinction at the 2022 New Mexico Excellence in STEM Awards. Also known as the STEMYS, the New Mexico Excellence in STEM Awards recognize individuals and organizations making a difference in STEM learning in New Mexico.

Earlier this month, Paul was able to attend the award ceremony at Q Station in Albuquerque.

“It was absolutely fantastic,” he says.

Going forward, Paul hopes to develop a backyard garden at CNM’s Oxford House property and will continue to help care for the raised garden beds already in place on Main Campus. He encourages anyone who’s interested in sustainable farming, New Mexico history, climate change, or even culinary arts to take his class, “Horticulture in Central New Mexico,” which is typically offered during the Summer Term and Fall Term. Eventually, Paul hopes to offer the class every semester so that he can serve even more students.

“If there are students here at CNM who want to do something for the environment and help take steps to reverse the effects of climate change, this class is a great starting point,” he says.