(Photo: Paul O'Mara)
(Photo: Paul O'Mara)

UA to Host Conference for American Indian Youth

The UA is hosting the American Indian Education Association Youth Conference, a statewide event for American Indian students who are in grades 7 to 12, during American Indian Heritage Month.
Nov. 23, 2016

American Indian youth from across the state will convene at the University of Arizona for a conference organized to support, encourage and provide necessary resources to help position them for academic and career success. 

The UA is hosting the 2016 American Indian Education Association Youth Conference, geared toward those who are in grades 7 to 12.

"We are delighted to host this conference and expose students to an array of college and career opportunities," said Karen Francis-Begay (Diné), the UA's assistant vice president for tribal relations in the Office of Government and Community Relations. "I tell youth that planning and preparation is key as they look to the future but also to be proud of who they are and where they come from."

The association's goal is to bring 200 participants to campus for the event, to be held Nov. 29 and 30 at the Student Union Memorial Center.

William Mendoza (Oglala-Sicangu Lakota), executive director of the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, will serve as the conference keynote speaker, presenting a talk on Nov. 29 at 4:45 p.m. Mendoza consults with the Obama administration on initiatives, including executive orders and educational partnerships, related to tribal affairs in education.

"College preparation is like playing basketball. You have to know the rules of the game and but also have a strategy to win," Francis-Begay said. "Once you are familiar with the game and you've put the practice time in, a victory is always possible. Students will be exposed to what college is all about and can begin to design their own win-win strategy."

During the event, youth will attend a film screening and a panel discussion on the college-going process and higher education experiences; go on tours; learn about careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields; and have a chance to meet with other American Indian students to learn about their experiences at the UA.

Also during the conference, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences faculty and undergraduate and graduate students will offer workshops about careers in animal science and agriculture.

"A lot of Native Americans — whether they are living on reservations, in a rural community or in urban areas — are connected back to their tribes," said Gerardo Lopez, assistant professor in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences, who will serve as a workshop facilitator.

"There are a lot of cultural perspectives that have to do with water, with soil, crop production, planting of indigenous vegetables and livestock," said Lopez, also an assistant extension specialist for 4-H Youth Development in STEM. "I want the students to see there are majors connected to these things, and to see the cultural relevance."

Lopez also said American Indian students in the college would be leading workshops.

"We want the kids to be inspired by listening to other young Native American students that have made it here at the UA," he said. "What better way to make that connection than hearing it from people they can relate to?"

Youth attending the conference also will learn about the various programs and services designed specifically for American Indians. For example:

  • Native American Student Affairs is one of the resource centers on campus, providing academic and social support and services to American Indian and Alaska Native students.
  • Native SOAR (Student Outreach, Access and Resiliency), housed within the College of Education, pairs American Indian high school students with college mentors, engaging them with one-on-one meetings, campus visits and other activities.
  • The Native Nations Institute provides customized executive programs designed to equip tribal leaders with knowledge and tools for native nation building.
  • The American Indian Language Development Institute engages educators, schools, indigenous communities and policy makers to revitalize and promote the use of indigenous languages.
  • Knowedge River is a highly regarded graduate program for training librarians and information specialists with a focus on cultural issues in the American Indian and Hispanic communities.
  • The Indigenous Peoples Law & Policy Program is a concentration in the James E. Rogers College of Law.

"Many of these students have never stepped on a large college campus before, so being exposed to this environment minimizes 'culture shock' when they eventually leave home to go college," Francis-Begay said. "I am proud of what the University of Arizona has to offer. It's a supportive campus community for Native students."