Organizations help Native American students transfer with confidence

After attending Native Transfer Day at the Tempe campus on Thursday, 17-year-old Claramae Whitehorse is planning ahead in hopes of being the first member of her family to earn a college degree.

Native Transfer Day was created to help Native American students make an easy transition from community colleges into university life.

Whitehorse is a freshman at Phoenix College, but the Navajo teenager hopes to eventually finish her degree at ASU.

“Basically, everyone is telling me — pushing me — to go to college,” Whitehorse said. “I have some other relatives that are telling me that college is good and I should keep going.”

The joint effort between Maricopa County Community Colleges District and American Indian Student Support Services at ASU was devoted to help students become more familiar with campus life, Native American organizations and scholarship opportunities.

Director of AISSS Michael Begaye said the event gives transfer students a chance to network before they set foot in a large-scale lecture hall.

“When a Native comes here, they’re looking for another Native person (or) Native staff,” Begaye said.

From outreach resources to career fairs, Begaye said it is the freshmen students who often get more information — not the transfers.

“When you look at transfer students, it’s almost nothing,” Begaye said. “Particularly for Native students, there’s no real clear path between the community college and ASU.”

Pam Yabeny, director of Early Outreach for Native American Programs for MCCCD, said one of the most important things about this program is the ability to interact with other ASU Native American students who can share their own perspectives on the transferring process.

To bridge the gap, AISSS began cultivating a relationship with MCCCD and began hosting Native Transfer Day in 2010, Yabeny said.

“It’s important for (Native American students) to connect to the resources that are specifically for them at ASU,” Yabeny said.

While Native Americans make up a small part of ASU’s student body, a majority of them struggle to graduate.

In a 10-year review beginning in 1999, Native Americans rank 20 percent behind other minorities who graduate in both upper and lower-division categories, according to the University Office of Institutional Analysis.

The transfer day focused heavily on the scholarships available for Native American students.

One of the panelists read the estimated cost of a university education aloud: about $10,000 for in-state tuition, $600 for books and $4,000 for room and board.

After the presentations were finished, a majority of prospective ASU transfer students wanted to ask one question: How do I pay for school?

ASU professor and program manager for AISSS Laura Gonzales-Macias said Native American students have special cultural factors other students and faculty should keep in mind.

“There are draws back home,” Gonzales-Macias said. “There’s a lot of different ceremonies that go on throughout the year, and they could be for different reasons.”

To encourage a “grounded” mentality for Native American students, the AISSS connects students from MCCCD to ASU students in an American Indian Mentorship program.

Gonzales-Macias strives to bring community leaders to her classroom to encourage entrepreneurship and innovation, and give students the ability to explore problems plaguing other tribes and research solutions.

During the Native Transfer Day, students from different American Indian organizations stressed the importance of applying for as many scholarships as possible. The general advice was to make it a full-time job.

After hearing the speakers, Claramae Whitehorse said she plans on using financial resources to fund her education and return the goodwill to her relatives and friends.

“I would like to contribute back to my community as getting scholarships from the Navajo nation,” Whitehorse said, “and use my skills to help my community back in my hometown.”


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