My life has come full circle, all the way back to my Academy days. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.

When Jorge Silva-Bañuelos started at Albuquerque Academy in 1992, he had no idea what an impact the experience would have on his life. Now that he’s been out in the world for a while, he’s well aware of how the Academy has helped shape his future.

After graduating from the Academy in 1999, Jorge studied International Relations at the University of San Diego in California. He also studied Spanish and Japanese, and spent a year in rural Japan as part of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program.

After returning to the states, Jorge joined the staff of then-U. S. Senator Jeff Bingaman and moved to Washington, D.C., where he began working on issues related to public lands. He held a variety of positions during the eight years he worked in Bingaman’s office, working on issues including natural resources, wildlife conservation, and designating new national parks and wilderness areas. “My first real experiences with nature happened at the Academy,” says Jorge. “I look back now on those days and realize how formative they were in terms of what I do now.” Jorge says the Academy’s Experiential Education program provided him with his first experiences hiking and backpacking in New Mexico and surrounding states. “At the Academy, I learned to value nature. Now, I am able to help protect it for future generations.”

Jorge is especially pleased that through his work in Bingaman’s office, he was able to play such a critical role in the recent establishment of the 240,000-acre Río Grande del Norte National Monument near Taos, NM. For several years, Jorge worked with residents, pueblo officials, land grant heirs, anglers and ranchers in the area to come to agreement on how best to conserve the area, while promoting the region’s economy.

At first, says Jorge, it was difficult to find support among many of these stakeholder groups. But, he says, after two years of meetings and truly listening to the concerns of local residents, it appeared that the community wasn’t as far apart as it may have seemed.

“As it turned out, everyone wanted to protect their way of life, which meant protecting the land and water,” says Jorge. And, after several years of work, that effort paid off when President Obama designated the Río Grande del Norte National Monument earlier this year. At the end of March, Jorge along with then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and about 300 other people—many of the same community members with whom he worked to achieve this goal—attended the dedication celebration in Taos.

“It has been a truly humbling experience to be a part of this and to have had such a positive impact,” he says. Now that the Río Grande del Norte project is complete and Sen. Bingaman has retired, Jorge has moved to the Department of the Interior where he is currently leading the Department’s Bison Conservation Initiative. He is hopeful he can have a similar positive impact on this and many other issues
to come.

“My life has come full circle, all the way back to my Academy days,” says Jorge. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”