TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — The University of Arizona is the top school in the country for doctorate degrees awarded to Native Americans, according to a recent survey by the National Science Foundation.
The data shows UArizona awarded 28 doctoral degrees to ‘American Indian or Alaska Native’ students between 2016 and 2020, the most of any of the 184 institutions that awarded doctorates to that population.
“It’s really a testament to, I think, everyone’s efforts to really tell our story and really affirm our commitment to serving the needs of our Native American students,” said Karen Francis-Begay, UArizona’s Assistant Vice Provost for Native American Initiatives.
Part of that commitment is what Francis-Begay calls ‘Nation-Building,’ or working to make indigenous students’ time at UArizona eventually lead to economically stronger tribal communities across the state.
“So students come to us, they get degreed, and hopefully the goal is they return back to their tribal communities and contribute to the work force,” she explained.
The school launched an Indigenous Resilience Center this fall to help native nations combat environmental challenges. Another program that is currently being developed would teach and train future tribal leaders.
“There’s so much more we can be doing,” said Levi Esquerra, UArizona’s Senior VP of Native American Advancement & Tribal Engagement. “Just because we’re number one in graduation doesn’t mean we can’t stop and increase the numbers that we graduate… Provide those opportunities for those students to truly be successful, to reach their true potentials, in whatever areas of interest.”
The recruitment goal on-campus is to make Native American students and faculty feel connected, respected and like they belong.
“Bringing them into the fabric of the institution, we always tell our students: Come as you are. And be prideful of who you are. Share your culture, share your language, and that’s what makes up the vibrancy of the University of Arizona,” Francis-Begay said.
There’s also been an effort at the university to pause and recognize that the campus sits on land that first belonged to indigenous tribes, specifically the O’odham and Pascua Yaqui people.
“Especially as a land grant university, we’re here to serve the citizens of the state,” Francis-Begay said. “And who are the first citizens? It’s the first peoples."
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