A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI) and Navajo Technical College (NTC). As a recent addition to the American Indian College Fund (the Fund) staff, the TCU movement is new to me, and I am continuously learning about its history and future. However, until I visited these two schools, my education was through articles and other people’s stories I was excited to see the schools in person.
My excitement was matched by the fervor with which staff and students shared their stories and the comprehensive introduction we received to both schools’ programs and services. At NTC, our tour took us into several classrooms, all of which had something to teach me about innovation in education and learning. In the Information Technology department, students are getting hands-on experience using the latest technology and then applying it in real-world situations through the school’s partnership with NASA. We also visited an environmental science class where both the professor and several students received scholarships from the Fund. The students were engaged in a study session identifying the scientific and common names of plants as well as their medicinal uses based on Navajo tradition. Later on, we met a girl who received a Fund scholarship during her years at NTC and returned to work in the on-campus veterinary office after graduation. Not only was she sharing her technical knowledge with current students, but she was also making sure each and every one applied for our scholarships. What commitment to her community and education!
On day two, we visited SIPI. The school likewise “wowed” me with their forward-thinking programs. Learning about one program, the Wakanyeja Sacred Little Ones grant, which is sponsored by the Kellogg Foundation and administered by the Fund, was the most powerful moment of my trip. Through the Wakanyeja program grant, SIPI was able to introduce an innovative research methodology into their early childhood education (ECE) curriculum, build a new on-campus childcare center in conjunction with a local Head Start program, and present exciting new research about adapting ECE to cultural needs. The program connects all aspects of ECE: from the staff and students conducting research to the early childhood center staff and parents’ participation in the research to assessment and development of new curriculum. It was in the second part of this circle of innovation that I saw the biggest impact of my work. We sat with a parent who explained her experience so far, equal parts sharing how the research is conducted and her role in that, and how it has personally impacted her family. At one point, she teared up, explaining that after joining the program her daughter has learned to introduce herself according to Navajo tradition, which is to state one’s lineage through the names of one’s clan. She went on to tell us how much her daughter was learning about her own culture and others’ cultures and in turn, how much she was learning from her daughter. That moment and the rest of the trip showed how the TCUs and their students are working with us to innovate, share their knowledge, and commit themselves to their communities.