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Dina Horwedel, Director of Public Education, American Indian College Fund, 303-426-8900, dhorwedel@collegefund.org

Colleen R. Billiot, Public Education Coordinator, American Indian College Fund, 720-214-2569, cbilliot@collegefund.org

Mar 11, 2024 | Press Releases

Dr. Charles M. Roessel, President, Diné College, Named as the American Indian College Fund 2023-24 Tribal College and University President Honoree of the Year

Denver, Colo., March 12, 2024—The American Indian College Fund selected Dr. Charles M. Roessel, President of Diné College, as its 2023-2024 Tribal College President Honoree of the Year. This award is granted to a distinguished individual who has made a positive and lasting impact on the tribal college movement.

Dr. Charles M. Roessel, President, Diné College.

Dr. Charles M. Roessel, President, Diné College.

Dr. Roessel grew up on the Navajo Reservation. His parents, Robert and Ruth Roessel, played key roles in creating Navajo Community College (now Diné College), the first tribal college, in 1968. Although his father served as the institution’s first president, Dr. Roessel never expected to follow in his footsteps.

After graduating from Chinle High School and setting aside his dream of becoming the first Navajo major league baseball player, he attended the University of Northern Colorado to earn a bachelor’s degree in photo communications. This degree was his introduction to the field he calls his first love, photojournalism, which he went on to receive a Master’s in at Prescott College. Roessel spent the next few years working with various publications such as Arizona Highways, Time, and National Geographic Society. His photography was only one aspect of his broader philosophy of respecting history and providing accurate depictions of the past and connecting them to the present.

He later became Superintendent of Rough Rock Community School. During this time, Dr. Roessel worked in the evenings to earn his doctorate in educational administration and supervision from Arizona State University. He also served as cochair of the No Child Left Behind School Facilities and Construction Negotiated Rule-making Committee. Having seen what he described as “broken promises” from the federal government about its support of tribal schools, Roessel said this knowledge helped him decide when asked to become the director of the 66 Navajo schools for the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE). He later served as director of the BIE.

One of his first actions after being appointed, was to visit the site of the old Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, the country’s first Indian boarding school. He says the development of tribal colleges and universities truly began with Carlisle. He believes one has to know this part of history to understand the importance of tribally-led education and the full potential of TCUs. His knowledge of the history of Diné College and the context of the tribal college movement prepared him for taking on the role of Diné College president.

“I was honored to take on the role. It was a job my dad held so I know what it was like and what TCUs stand for, as more than just colleges.” TCUs, according to Roessel, have a different mission from other colleges. They are not simply places of higher education but examples of tribal sovereignty where you build up people to build up the nation. Since his appointment as president of Diné College in 2017, Dr. Roessel has expanded the college’s support to students and the community alike.

Under his leadership, Diné College has grown into a four-year institution with a focus on creativity and innovation. He opened the School of Transformation, a non-degree seeking certificate program that provides professional development, continuing education units, training programs, and self-directed courses. The goal is to encourage students to develop a passion for lifelong learning, reach their full potential, and become employed within the Navajo Nation.

Dr. Roessel has also sought out alternative revenue streams to develop businesses on the reservation. The Aspen Institute has even recognized Diné College for its direct economic impact within the community. Dr. Roessel was also one of the first to highlight students’ needs for internet access and technology, such as laptops, during the Covid pandemic. “It isn’t just about access,” he explained, “but what comes after access to address the lack of capacity with technology.”

Looking ahead, President Roessel is leading the college toward several goals: enroll 3,000 students by 2030, offer three master’s programs by next year, and be relevant for both the Navajo nation and the region. “We are changing the conversation from being a transactional college to a global perspective and gaining a seat at the table. We want to help find solutions.” As a reflection of the community, he wants to see Diné College make a bigger impact on preserving Navajo language and culture. After all, in Dr. Roessel’s words, “Diné College is the Navajo Nation.”

When he isn’t fulfilling his duties as college president, Dr. Roessel keeps himself busy with his family and hobbies, such as golfing. He still teaches a few photography courses and is working on a photography project that allows people to share their own boarding school experiences. His greatest joy is spending time with his grandchildren who call him “Chei Chei” and “gramps,” which melts his heart.

President Roessel received a $1,200 honorarium, sponsored by the Adolph Coors Foundation, for his dedication to tribal college education.

Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, said, “All of the educators, students, and their families who work within our communities to make education accessible and meaningful are deeply grateful for the vision and hard work of Dr. Roessel. We appreciate him and look forward to his continued leadership with tribal education.”

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About the American Indian College Fund The American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education for 34 years. The College Fund believes “Education is the answer” and provided $17.4 million in scholarships and other direct student support to American Indian students in 2022-23. Since its founding in 1989 the College Fund has provided more than $319 million in scholarships, programs, community, and tribal college support. The College Fund also supports a variety of academic and support programs at the nation’s 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities, which are located on or near Indian reservations, ensuring students have the tools to graduate and succeed in their careers. The College Fund consistently receives top ratings from independent charity evaluators and is one of the nation’s top 100 charities named to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. For more information about the American Indian College Fund, please visit www.collegefund.org.

Reporters: The American Indian College Fund does not use the acronym AICF. On second reference, please use the College Fund.

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