Executive Director of White House Initiative on American Indian/Alaska Native Education Visits MCC

MCC students and ISO club members gather with Mr. William Mendoza

Dr. Pan introduced Mr. William Mendoza, White House Representative and Executive Director of American Indian and Alaska Native Education

 

by Sam Stevens, MCC Advisor

Photos by Sally Mesarosh (Media Relations and Communications)

Mesa, AZ - On Wednesday, Sept.11, 2013, American Indian Students at MCC gathered in the Southwest Reading Room and were given the opportunity to have dinner with and listen to encouraging, motivational, and informative words by the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, Mr. William Mendoza.  This successful and well-attended event, which saw over 80 students and staff in attendance, was brought together through a collaborative effort between the Inter-tribal Student Organization (ISO) and the American Indian Center (AIC) at MCC to promote student retention and encourage academic achievement.  Notable MCC administrators included  Dr. James Mabry, Vice-President of Academic Affairs, Meredith Warner, Dean of Student Services, Dr. Niccole Villa Cerveny, Residential Cultural Science faculty, and MCC President Dr. Shouan Pan who introduced Mr. Mendoza.  Also in attendance were instructors Arlene Old Elk and Alfred Yazzie, who brought their classes to listen for the evening.

  Mendoza was appointed to his current post by the Obama Administration in 2010 and is responsible for working with tribal colleges and universities as well as native serving institutions of higher education.  The initiative, established by an executive order signed by President Obama on Dec. 2, 2011, is designed to help expand educational opportunities and improve educational outcomes for all American Indian and Alaska Native students.  The far-reaching goal is to increase opportunities for students to learn and preserve their native languages, cultures and histories while completing a competitive and worthwhile education that prepares them for college success and a fulfilling professional career.

  Growing up on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Sioux Reservation, Mendoza discussed how his life and educational experiences did not necessarily prepare him for the rigors of academia or the larger world off the reservation, even as he was admitted into the University of Idaho in Pocatello.  As a result, he did not push himself in the classroom and when he found himself on academic probation he isolated himself to the familiar setting of the university's basketball facilities in an attempt to remain around a comfortable and familiar environment.  However, continued extra-curricular distractions, along with long hours of basketball found him again on academic probation and eventual suspension from the university.  Mendoza then left school and bounced between nearby states over the next few years where he attended several tribal colleges, including Sinte Gleska University and Oglala Lakota College.  Eventually he came to the realization he needed to complete a college education and he enrolled in Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, KS, then transferred to Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO, graduating with his bachelor's degree in Humanities in 2005.  His motivation to remain in school came from advice by his mother and the encouragement of his grandmother as well as the realization he was working toward providing a better life for his newly born child.  After graduation and teaching school for a number of years he enrolled in and completed a master's degree in Educational Leadership at Montana State University in 2010.

  Mendoza’s message to students on Wednesday evening was to embrace the versatility they have as Native people to successfully navigate between their own cultural worlds and life as a minority in a non-Indian setting, including education and career.  He explained that while Native youth model various life cycles of growth and development to succeed, they should also look for positive role models within their communities, emulating their good qualities which he sees as a catalyst for pursuing education and personal growth.  He explained that where previous generations of Native learners fought for and gained access and equity in education, the next phase of the educational battle is to indigenize the process using Native values, lessons, and one’s own experience to change the institutional approach and make the system more aware of how to work with Native populations.  He acknowledged that while colleges and universities are aware of and teach fundamental educational principles that underlie most populations, there is still a lack of understanding of how to work with Native populations as a whole.  He encouraged students to engage and change the ideology in whatever field they are pursuing and to not be afraid to represent their respective tribal group as they become educated.  Mendoza further encouraged students to bring their education and experiences back to their reservations and serve their people with advanced knowledge in many different fields.  From the technological, math, science, and engineering fields to the social sciences and teaching fields, he encouraged them to strengthen education, literacy, and the social and economic structures of their respective tribes through their versatility of living in more than one world.  

  One highlight of the night was his analogy of how early generations of men and women battled for survival.  While men were the ones who went to battle, they often came back with fewer numbers than what they started with, leading to a near decimation of strong male members within Indian societies.  Women, on the other hand, stayed behind, holding families to the land, keeping their cultures grounded and families moving forward.  That same battle is going on today with men losing the fight to many social vices, including alcoholism, drug abuse, poor fathering methods, and lack of education and careers.  Women have now become the largest population of Native students at colleges and universities, persevering as their female ancestors did, to minimize the struggles faced by their families and adding their cultural experiences to the fields and systems within which they study.  He called for strengthening the role of male students within education and in their roles as fathers.  He further challenged them to be the example of a positive role model within their own communities while leading their families forward.

  Student response was very positive and many were impressed that Mr. Mendoza voluntarily came to Mesa Community College on an invite.  His message was approvingly met with a large round of applause and as soon as he was done speaking students came forward to introduce themselves and take pictures, shake hands, and even receive an autograph.  Students were impressed with his humility about the task he is undertaking and were captivated by his ability to speak so eloquently.  Others were proud that they were able to meet a voice for Native people in Washington and encouraged him to advocate for rights and continued educational support for tribal groups.  As the evening drew to a close Mr. Mendoza encouraged students to persevere and commit to their education, ending with a call for more Native people working in Washington, DC.  With so many bright and dedicated students at Mesa Community College we are hopeful that there will be many who will answer that call and join Mr. Mendoza as an advocate of educational opportunities for American Indian students throughout the country.

MCC Faculty and Staff stand with White House Representative, William Mendoza.  Miranda Halkini and Yvonne Honeyestewa were instrumental in bringing Mr. Mendoza to MCC

Students speaking with Mr. Mendoza at the conclusion of his speech

Dr. Mabry speaking with Mr. Mendoza

Mendoza being presented a t-shirt by Miranda Halkini, ISO club advisor

Mendoza speaking event was well attended by MCC students

MCC students having dinner while waiting for Mr. Mendoza to arrive

Mendoza interacted with many MCC students after his speech