AARP New Mexico has partnered with America Walks to conduct a six-month walking college that teaches people how to advocate for change in their community around pedestrian issues. The course will show participants how to create an action plan as well as teach them how to approach local officials about implementing that plan.

Maria Tsethlikai, of Jemez Pueblo, is among seven New Mexicans who will be working throughout the summer and beyond to improve the walkability of their communities.

The New Mexico State Walking College is a joint effort between AARP New Mexico and America Walks to offer a distance-learning fellowship program for people interested in advocating to make their communities more walkable. Participants, known as fellows, will complete a series of modules covering leadership development, coalition-building, walkable community design, local public policy, and strategic planning. The program is part of AARP’s Livable Communities initiative.

“AARP New Mexico is proud to be part of this initiative that will empower people and give them the tools needed to advocate for change in their communities,” said Joseph Sanchez, AARP New Mexico state director. “Each fellow will finish the college by developing a walking action plan for their community that they can take to local leaders and elected officials to implement change. We are very excited to not only see what they come up with, but how those plans are implemented moving forward.”

Tsethlikai has been employed with Jemez Pueblo since 2019. She started her career as a community prevention specialist. She was promoted to take the lead over the Environmental Health Program, where she currently oversees policies and procedures in various health efforts, such as reducing food-borne illnesses, creating policies on food vending, reduce structure hazards and home safety initiatives. She also oversees pedestrian safety efforts with a focus on the overpopulation of dogs in the community.

The other New Mexico State Walking College Fellows are Desiree Rangel (Sunland Park); Don Miller (Santa Fe); Nadine Kowice (Laguna and Acoma Pueblos); Dennis Felipe Jr. (Acoma Pueblo); Mario Hooee (Zuni Pueblo) and Yvonne Allbritton-Chapman (Socorro).