December 21, 1998 by Nina Singleton NMSU News Center
Graduating more Native American students from New Mexico State University is the goal of a memorandum of understanding signed this fall by President William B. Conroy with New Mexico Indian pueblos.
As a result of the agreement, NMSU will collaborate with 18 New Mexico pueblos on increasing recruiting and retention, identifying more funding, and strengthening communication on educational issues. The pueblos include San Felipe, Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Nambe, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santo Domingo, Picuris, Sandia, Taos, Tesuque, Zia, Zuni and Laguna. Agreements with more American Indian groups are expected in the future.
“NMSU has more than 450 Native American students enrolled now,” the president said. “But by working more closely with the pueblos and tribes, we hope we can prepare more Indian students for college, encourage more to enroll, and help them succeed and graduate.”
The strategies will involve educational workshops and other events on the NMSU campus and in tribal communities to promote college education at NMSU, naming a campus liaison to work with the pueblos, continuing to seek qualified Native American faculty and staff as role models, disseminating more information about academic degree programs, and finding more funds for scholarships and services.
The memorandum is the latest in NMSU initiatives and programs aimed at supporting Native American students.
“What we try to do is make sure students feel at home here. Many come from remote reservations or pueblos, and we try to ease that transition as much as possible,” explained Juan N. Franco, who handles minority programs in his role as vice president for administration.
The NMSU American Indian Program, headed by Taos Pueblo native Harry Lujan, offers counseling, tutoring, financial aid and career development, a computer lab, and intramurals.
Arlen Davis, a senior from Silver City, admits he found the transition from high school to university life to be difficult, but he made friends and improved his study skills by taking advantage of such programs. He also joined the United Native American Organization and the Native American Business Students Association, of which he is president this year.
As a result, the business management major says his family is pleased with his progress at NMSU — “and they can’t wait for me to graduate!” He hopes to find a job in his field until he can achieve his dream–running his own business.
Many students, like Vivie Maryboy, a graduate student in range science originally from Kirtland, N.M., dream of making a difference back home. She remembers visiting grandparents on the Navajo reservation where she helped with livestock branding and vaccinating.
“After graduation, I hope to gain experience anywhere I can and then take it back with me to the reservation–a lot of our culture deals with agriculture,” she said.
For many Native American students, retaining ties to their culture as well as homelands is essential. Martha Dailey, a senior in environmental engineering from Shiprock who was chosen last year as Miss Indian NMSU, believes she is a student ambassador for her culture. Her traditional dress has special meaning for her; its pieces were handmade and given to her by tribal members she loves and respects. The fan she carries is crafted from feathers from the eagle, “the highest-flying bird … able to carry our prayers.”
One way NMSU may help students preserve their culture is through a Navajo language class next fall. Tom Hoeksema, a professor emeritus who works for the NMSU Foundation, is having success in soliciting corporate and private donations to fund the class.
Other NMSU programs are aimed at helping Indian students develop specific expertise. The statewide Indian Resource Development Program based at NMSU encourages students to pursue agriculture, home economics, business and engineering. A $1.5 million project funded by the National Science Foundation will enable the NMSU computer science department to install computers and provide support for Native American schools throughout the Southwest. A $724,000 W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant will connect NMSU to the state’s tribal community colleges to encourage students to continue their studies for bachelor’s and graduate degrees.