Judith Espinosa Follows Path of Opportunity
Judith Espinosa never intended to have a long resume when she earned a nursing degree at the University of New Mexico in 1972. It just happened.
After working as a hospital nurse, which included being in charge of a medical/surgical floor, she headed to Los Angeles, where she earned a master's in public health administration at UCLA. Working as a consultant in environmental health policy and health policy research convinced her to go to law school. Ready to return home to New Mexico, her choice was the UNM School of Law.
She earned her J.D. in 1980, after which the adventure began in earnest. She has been a Legal Aid attorney, a cabinet secretary (twice), helped set up Albuquerque's successful vehicle emissions testing program, helped plan routes for waste heading to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, helped design a rural transit system for communities across New Mexico and worked as chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Diane Denish.
"I've been fortunate to be presented with opportunities to do different kinds of work in my career and I've taken them," says Espinosa, who is now general manager at Expo New Mexico.
She has enjoyed every opportunity to come her way, beginning with her post as Secretary of Transportation under Gov. Toney Anaya, who she considers a visionary.
"He was the first person to push for a high-speed train between Albuquerque and Santa Fe," she says. "We did the first study on that when I was secretary."
In 1986, Espinosa joined Westinghouse Corp., her first experience with a large corporation. She enjoyed working with state governments and community agencies nationwide to plan the routes for the transuranic waste that would be stored at WIPP, which was under construction.
When her job was going to move to Carlsbad in 1988, she opted to stay in her hometown so her 2-year-old daughter could be close to family. Her new challenge was to set up an emissions testing program for Bernalillo County. The previous program was out of compliance and losing $4 million a year in federal funding. She was given nine months to get a new program up and running.
"I put together a team and we convinced the Legislature to give us some money and change statutes to make this work. We worked with city government, environmentalists, the automobile community, mechanics and put together regulations," she says. "It was fun and hard work, and tenuous for a while, but we got it done."
Three years later, Gov. Bruce King tapped her to become the cabinet secretary of the new Environment Department.
In 1994, she left to join the Alliance for Transportation Institute at UNM, becoming director in 1997. Among many accomplishments during her 11 years with the institute, she considers the success at creating software that automated the way rural communities operated and administered their transit systems to be most significant. She and her team won an award from the U.S. Department of Transportation for the project.
"We had 27 rural transit systems at the time and our project made them more efficient," she says. "It was a huge accomplishment."
The next opportunity came in 2006, to be chief of staff for Diane Denish.
"I had always admired her for her work in New Mexico. She cares a lot about children and future generations," says Espinosa.
When her mother became ill, Espinosa returned to Albuquerque and in January 2008 took over as general manager of Expo New Mexico, whose flagship event is the New Mexico State Fair.
With her first fair behind her and the racetrack moving to Moriarty, she looks forward to finding new year-round uses for the fairgrounds that will bring people to the tree-lined pocket of serenity in the middle of Albuquerque.
Even with a long list of accomplishments in her wake, Espinosa harbors one undone goal: to serve in the Peace Corps.
"I don't want to be a manager, I want to do the work, build houses, hopefully in Latin America."
A Conversation with Judith Espinosa
Q: What was your favorite class in law school?
A: Contracts and Civil Procedure. I use what I learned in both of these classes in the administrative work I do today.
Q: What was your least favorite class?
Q: Who was your favorite professor?
A: Pam Minzner
Q: What was the last book you read?
A: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory McGuire.
Q: If you weren't in charge at Expo New Mexico, what would be your dream job?
A: I'd love to run some social programs in Latin America.
Q: What do you enjoy most about leading Expo?
A: It's fast-paced and I use every management skill I ever learned. There are wonderful people here who really care about Expo.