Affirmative action in higher education once again will be at the forefront of national news as the...
UA Working to Boost American Indian Graduate Enrollments
The UA is the first institution in the Southwest to be selected by the American Indian Graduate Center to host a program that prepares American Indian students for graduate school.
The UA’s Graduate College is hosting Graduate Horizons, a program that will bring about 70 American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian undergraduate students to the campus for an intense mentoring program.
UA junior Angel Navarro is among them.
"I’m really looking forward to the program," said Navarro, a member of the Tohono O'odham Nation.
Navarro, who is studying special education with an emphasis in English education, said he already had his eyes on graduate school prior to learning about the program. But he'll need help with applications and sorting out letters of recommendation.
"I think it will be a great experience and I appreciate having the opportunity."
During their time at the UA, which runs from July 12-15, the students will learn about scholarships financial aid, what to look for in a master’s or doctorate program, how to apply for graduate programs and prepare a curriculum vitae, among other things.
The students will also get exclusive presentations from some of the top universities in the United States and learn how to prepare for entrance exams for law and medical school, among other programs.
"We expect them to be very engaged," said Herminia Frias, Native American student coordinator in the UA’s Graduate College. "The long-term vision is to get these students to successfully apply to graduate school and to get admitted into degree programs."The Albuquerque-based American Indian Graduate Center selected the UA as the host institution – making the University the first in the Southwest to administer the program since it began in 2004.
“We have shown a tremendous commitment to educating Native American students both at the undergraduate and graduate levels,” said Maria Teresa Velez, the associate dean of the UA’s Graduate College.
“We are very interested in educating our own indigenous population in Arizona and also supporting the training of other Native Americans throughout the country," Velez said.
The Graduate College raised funds to ensure that Graduate Horizon students would be able to participate in the program at no cost. The UA Office of the President, the College of Law and College of Optical Sciences along with the Tohono O’odham Nation, numerous tribal nations across Arizona and many others offered financial support to Graduate Horizons, Velez said.
During the program, UA faculty and staff will serve as mentors, consulting the students on a range of programs and disciplines, particularly science, technology, engineering and math. Nationally, American Indians are grossly underrepresented in those fields.
Of course, the hope is that students choose the UA for their graduate studies, Frias said.
"We’re hoping that they are going to be interested in coming to the UA after seeing all the wonderful resources the Universtiy provides," she said.
Graduate Horizons is one of numerous ways the UA does just that.
Several efforts on campus are helping to drive more American Indian students to higher education and to ensure their success once they arrive on campus.
In 2007, UA President Robert N. Shelton appointed Karen Francis Begay as his special advisor Native American affairs to develop stronger relationships with tribal nations and to inform him of particular issues relevant to the state’s American Indian populations. This month, the Jack and Vivan Hanson Arizona Film Institute is hosting its first filmmaking workshop for Tohono O’odham youth. The UA also is home to the American Indian Language Development Institute, currently in its 29th year.
The UA also has a partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and offers aid to American Indian graduate students and involves them in research on campus.
The UA’s Native American Student Affairs office works to improve the retention of American Indian students once they arrive at the UA.
It is critically important to focus on American Indian students, Velez said.
In a presentation to the American Chemical Society during the organization’s regional meeting in June, she noted that about one-quarter of American Indian children are enrolled in schools with high poverty rates. That compares to 1 in 10 Asian American children and 1 in 25 white children, she added.
“American Indians are the most underrepresented of underrepresented groups of this country in education,” Velez said. “They are being left out of the economic development of their own tribes and their families. But what the students will gain will not only benefit them and their families, but hopefully their communities as well."