IRVINE, Calif. - Nikishna Polequaptewa has recently received two new honors to add to a growing list. At only 27, that list is impressive, but it hasn't gone to his head. He continues to work towards his life-long goal of helping other Native American students rise up to reach their own dreams.
Most recently, Polequaptewa was gifted with an American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) Sequoyah Fellowship, and participated in the blessing ceremony at the 2009 National Conference Oct. 29-31 in Portland, Ore. Polequaptewa was also named as one of 40 young existing and emerging Native American leaders to receive the National Center for American Indian Development's (NCAID) "Native American 40 Under 40" awards.
An AISES Sequoyah Fellow is a lifetime member of AISES," said April Armijo, AISES Information Services Coordinator. "Many individuals purchase a Sequoyah Fellowship for themselves and then go onto gifting one to another."
Nikishna's was sponsored by Todd Ambo, an engineer at 3M from the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, Acjachemen Nation, who was also gifted last year in Anaheim. An AISES Sequoyah Fellow is regarded as a representative members of AISES who supports the organization to overcome obstacles and achieve immeasurable growth and success.
Armijo shared Ambo's reasoning.
"He's a great role model and has overcome many trials and tribulations," Ambo said. "[Nikishna] is a young and very inspiring person and I believe that he will accomplish many great things for native people in the future."
Indeed, Polequaptewa has faced adversity. His mother abandoned him as a baby, and was forced into a series of foster homes when his father went to prison. But this hasn't stopped this industrious young Hopi from creating his own future.
"I was really surprised to learn that I'd been sponsored for the Sequoyah Fellowship," Polequaptewa said. "And as for the 40
Under 40 award - I was the only individual in Education to win this award. It was pretty neat to receive it - NCAID is the oldest nationwide organization of its kind, and this is the first time they've offered [it.]"
A string of achievements prove this 27-year-old member of the Badger and Spider Clans is moving forward at a rapid pace. He credits a strong identification with his Hopi people as well as his desire to help other young people for driving him forward.
Polequaptewa currently serves as the Director of the American Indian Resource Program (AIRP) of the University of California, Irvine, where he is able to live his dream of helping Native American students attain higher education.
"Our main project is an American Indian Summer Institute in Computer Sciences, which is an intensive summer residential program, primarily funded by the National Science Foundation," he said.
"We take eighth grade students going into ninth grade and 11th grade students going into 12th grade from all over the country. We pay for everything - transportation, housing, food, books, and entertainment."
Young people interested in attending the program should go to www.airp.uci.edu; applications should be submitted in January.
"This project is unique in that we don't base attendance on a student's grade point average," Polequaptewa said. "We base our selection totally on their essay on why ... they want to come to our camp."
Further, students who don't have a census number are not rejected; rather, they are accepted on a self-identification basis.
"Ninety-five percent of our students go on to attend great universities-even if their grade point average was only 1.9 when they came to us," Polequaptewa said. "We serve students from kindergarten through PhD candidates. We help students be eligible for the right tests and to get into the college of their choice. Once there, we work on retention."
Polequaptewa and his colleagues are there to support students through the challenges and frustrations that face young American Indian students-including overcoming boarding school experiences that often offer little in the way of preparing students to be self-sufficient young adults who will attend college off-reservation.
"We didn't start this program without the help of others," Polequaptewa said. "A key organization is the Center for Educational Partnerships, which provides us with free office space and supplies.
Polequaptewa intends to spend the second half of his life at Hopi.
"Ever since I was little, I wanted to serve as the Hopi Tribal Chairman," Polequaptewa continued. "I want to serve in the best capacity possible, with valuable resources to bring to the Tribe."
Polequaptewa said that his plan is to serve his people-and by becoming financially stable should he achieve his goal of Chairman, he will offer his services free of charge.