FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Jayme Biakeddy, from Fort Defiance on the Navajo Reservation, shocked her family when she told them she was named Miss Indian NAU at Northern Arizona University.
"I'm an introvert, not the pageant queen type, but I thought I would put myself out there and learn to interact with different types of people," said Biakeddy, a first-generation student studying exercise science with a chemistry minor.
When walking around campus or doing community service in her full regalia, Biakeddy gets lots of attention and she takes her title seriously.
"Being seen as a role model on campus and with younger children in the community means a lot to me and other young, indigenous students who want to make a change in their communities," Biakeddy said.
Along with her studies and yearlong responsibilities as Miss Indian NAU, Biakeddy works as a Native American Student Services peer mentor, assisting freshmen and transfer students as they adjust to campus life. She shares lessons learned about time management and offers encouragement.
"Many Native Americans come from very close-knit families who often live together so it is difficult for some students to travel off the reservation and stay here for four full years," Biakeddy said.
The Native American Cultural Center and support services have improved prospects for graduation by creating a welcoming environment and connecting Native American students with on-campus opportunities, she added.
The next Miss Indian NAU will be selected in November giving Biakeddy time to continue honing her public speaking skills, while preparing for a health sciences career. She may pursue a graduate degree in physical therapy or return to the reservation after graduation in 2016.
"I would like to work with Native Americans, especially the younger generation, informing them on the topics of a healthy lifestyle, eating right and avoiding diabetes," Biakeddy said.
She finds her own encouragement when she travels back home and discovers others who are NAU alumni.
"They share their stories and it motivates me," Biakeddy said. "No matter how hard it gets you can do it and go back and help your people."