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Tuesday, October 21, 2014 | Last updated: 6:39am

Recently published book focuses on Native Americans pursuing higher education



A UA graduate and a faculty member are focusing on strengthening the representation of Native American students pursuing higher education through their contribution to a recently published book.

Karen Francis-Begay, assistant vice president of tribal relations in the UA Office of the President, and Amanda Tachine, a doctoral student in higher education, helped co-author the first chapter in the book, “Beyond the Asterisk: Understanding Native Students in Higher Education,” which delves into the issue of a lack of research on Native American and Alaska Native university students and details the challenges they face.

The book’s title has a significant meaning, because it alludes to the issue of the asterisk commonly found in current research studies. Asterisks refers to sample numbers of Native American populations who are often too small to provide any significant research statistics.

The first chapter, “The First Year Experience for Native Americans: The University of Arizona First-Year Scholars Program,” addresses the steps Native American students should take to be successful, while detailing their experiences in the First-Year Scholars Program at the UA. Started in 2004, the program aims to help Native American students adjust to college life and improve retention rates.

Tachine said she realized detailing the first year of student’s lives was critical to highlighting these challenges. As a former participant in the First-Year Scholars program, she said she saw the benefits that come with having similar programs available to Native American students.

“This project has inspired me as a student and equipped me with more knowledge to pursue this matter through my dissertation,” Tachine said. “I feel it is part of my responsibility to reciprocate that information and share it with others who may want to understand this issue.”

Byron Sloan, a junior retailing and consumer science major, said he shares a similar story to those conveyed in the publication. Although his father attended college, Sloan said he found it difficult to find common ground and utilize his help.

“Coming in to freshman year, it was for me to go about on my own,” Sloan said. “My dad went to school in a different time and there’s not a lot of [Native American] role models who have gone through the collegiate process.”

Now a programming board member for the UA’s Native American Student Affairs (NASA), Sloan said he makes it his goal to reach out to other students who may be experiencing similar obstacles. Though cultural centers provide various resources to their students, Sloan said the university can take more action to further their benefits.

“In doing more research, I feel that it’s the first step in saying we’re not homogenous,” Sloan said. “It would be a tangible situation if the university took initiative and had it be known that they want a Native American student presence.”

Publishing a book on this issue is a step toward major improvements in the research environment, Begay said. The majority of research information is based on the K-12 level, leaving out data on Native American students attending colleges, she added.

“When you try to go out there and find the literature or even data, it’s not there or there’s very little of it,” Begay said. “It’s almost as if we’re completely invisible … therefore our issues don’t get addressed.”

This is a concern to researchers like Begay, because she said that without reliable data, there is no way of addressing how much change or progress in retention is actually being made. Although Begay’s current work is not directly in the classroom, she is continuing her work by expanding into the tribal community. Through her continued involvement at the university, Begay said her current work gives her a unique stance on her research.

“There’s not a lot of institutions in the country that have a key person that works with tribes. The value … and symbolic meaning it has in having someone designated to work specifically with tribes at the level of the president of the university says a lot. It demonstrates the institution’s commitment to serving the needs of the Native American community.”

Looking into the future, Tachine said this research has set a foundation for the work of other scholars to come.
“We’re more than a box to check off, so we need to look at the holistic ways our Native students live,” Tachine said. “These are real students trying to thrive.”


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