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Recent NMSU graduate to represent NM, Navajo Nation at national conference

Release Date: 20 Jul 2022
Recent NMSU graduate to represent NM, Navajo Nation at national conference

A recent New Mexico State University graduate will represent New Mexico and the Navajo Nation at the first-ever Western Governors’ Leadership Institute later this month in Idaho.

Sunshine Tso, who earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and agricultural business from NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences in May, will participate in the inaugural leadership institute from July 24-28. Jay Lillywhite, professor and head of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agricultural Business, nominated Tso to the leadership institute.

“I am happy Sunshine was selected to participate in the Western Governors’ Leadership Institute,” Lillywhite said. “Sunshine is an impressive young leader and is very deserving of the opportunity. Participating in the leadership institute will benefit her and all who interact with her.”

The Western Governors’ Association and its philanthropic arm launched the leadership institute this year to recognize and reward the effective exercise of leadership by young adults across the western United States and promote and encourage future development across the 22-state region. The association bills itself as an instrument for bipartisan policy development, information exchange and collective action on issues of critical importance to the western U.S.

Tso is one of two NMSU students selected to serve as delegates in the leadership institute. The event begins with a forum of speakers, including governors, business leaders and presidents of various organizations. The delegates will also attend the Western Governors’ Association annual meeting, where the cohort can observe the discourse between governors of different states and different parties engaging on significant issues.

“I’m really grateful to Dr. Lilywhite for nominating me,” Tso said. “It’s great to see organizations like the Western Governors’ Association giving Native youth the opportunity to attend forums that will help build our leadership skills.”

Tso, an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation who grew up in Huerfano, New Mexico, said she believes the institute will “give Native youth a bigger voice and a seat at the table.”

“Native youth have a unique perspective,” she added. “If we were able to amplify their thoughts and knowledge, we could create a pathway for agents of change in tribal communities.”

Tso said she knew from a young age she wanted to pursue a college degree in agriculture, and that led her on a path to NMSU.

“I was involved in both 4-H and FFA throughout my childhood. As a result, I wanted to pursue an agricultural degree,” she said. “Once I was in high school, I knew I wanted to go to NMSU because it had one of the best agricultural programs.”

This fall, Tso will begin a graduate program at NMSU in agricultural economics. Her career goal is to return to her hometown to teach agriculture at a tribal college.

At NMSU, Tso works as a student assistant for Indian Resources Development, a statewide program that offers educational and professional development opportunities for Native American students from New Mexico who are in high school and college.

“I enjoy working for IRD. We focus on connecting Indigenous students to agriculture, natural resources, business, engineering, and energy degree and exploration programs. We also promote internships and educational opportunities for Native students in New Mexico,” she said.

For more information about the Western Governors’ Leadership Institute, visit

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