Navajo-Hopi Nations,Flagstaff & Winslow News
Fri, June 05

Students share a dream to help Native American communities

ASU Udall Scholarship winner Jennifer Jackson (Diné).

ASU Udall Scholarship winner Jennifer Jackson (Diné).

TEMPE-Three dynamic women who share a dream of helping Native American communities have won national Udall Scholarships at Arizona State University (ASU). Each comes from different backgrounds and have different majors, but their goals are to develop expertise so they can make a difference in the lives of struggling tribal community members.

Sharon Cini (Navajo/Hopi), an American Indian studies major, wants to become a health care administrator at the hospital in her grandmother's hometown of Ganado on the Navajo reservation. She grew up in Winslow.

Jennifer Jackson (Navajo) of Tuba City, who is majoring in elementary education and family studies, plans to become a school principal and then a superintendent on the Navajo reservation.

Andrea Garfinkel-Castro, an urban planning major from Modesto, Calif., has her eye on bringing energy conservation and energy management to affordable housing projects, including those in Native American communities.

All are single mothers in their thirties and forties with 10 children between them. They share an intense work ethic, a steely determination, and breadth of life experiences that will make them likely to succeed.

Only about 70 sophomores and juniors are selected to receive the $5,000 award each year, which are given to students who intend to pursue careers in tribal policy, health care and environmental public policy. Altogether, 20 ASU students have won Udall scholarships in the past 11 years.

Cini is already involved in Native American health care, having worked as an outreach coordinator and parent educator at Phoenix Children's Hospital as well as a substance abuse counselor and a clinician who trains non-Native foster parents for Native children. This spring she began working with the board of the Sage Memorial Hospital in Ganado, a struggling institution that needs leadership and is grateful for her help.

A U.S. Navy veteran, Cini follows a tradition-her great-grandmother was a medicine woman and her mother was a nurse at Winslow Indian Health Services for 30 years.

"Sharon is a young extraordinary mind who has learned disciplined maturity through her upbringing as well as her service in the Navy," says Donald Fixico, history professor. "Her strength is in her identity as a Native person and a woman who has set important goals in her life. She does indeed practice the Navajo concept of 'Walking in Beauty.' As a Native scholar, I am very proud of her."

Michelle Hale, faculty associate in American Indian Studies, says Cini is "a natural leader, an extraordinarily hard worker with tremendous potential that I cannot wait to see developed."

Jackson started volunteering in Tuba City schools when her children were young. She has been coaching, sponsoring cultural groups, sitting on parent advisory councils and planning community events. Eventually she developed so much expertise that she was hired as program manager for a tribal social service program and later as a director for a tribal Head Start program. She learned how to collect data and write grants.

In August 2005 she enrolled at ASU, determined to become a policy maker who could improve the quality of education for Navajos. She wants to develop a culturally relevant curriculum that meets federal standards and incorporate Navajo language instruction into reservation schools.

"Jennifer has exceptional leadership qualities, yet [she] maintains values of the Navajo who are a people devoted to communal life and goals," says Kathryn Manuelito, assistant professor of education. "She is aware of the contradictions that challenge professional Navajo people as they seek to benefit from both the Navajo world and the Euro-western world. Her approach to life is very positive."

Garfinkel-Castro is an activist planner for energy conservation in affordable housing, believing that the perception that the poor don't care about the environment is wrong, as is the idea that energy conservation is too costly. Having grown up in modest means, she learned a lifestyle of conservation through necessity.

Currently she is working as a volunteer on a community redevelopment project in the Yaqui Indian town of Guadalupe, one that will have energy efficiencies.

"As a late-blooming student, one who has had to work hard and be persistent in her search for an education, Andrea brings to her work a high level of maturity and clarity about her values," says Hemalata Dandekar, director of the School of Planning. "Her focus on issues of equity and her concerns about displacement of the poor and access to public resources for disadvantaged populations are clear.

"The Udall Scholarship will help her better understand the mechanisms of governmental decision making. She can turn this knowledge to improving the chances of less able groups in our society."

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