Navajo Nation President Buu Nygren joined Public Service Co. of New Mexico and San Juan College officials at the PNM Workforce Training Program scholarship reception May 5 at the School of Energy.
Scholarship recipients honored at the reception were graduates of San Juan College and Navajo Technical University.
Gayle Dean, executive director of the San Juan College Foundation, welcomed attendees. Rickie Nez, delegate for the 25th Navajo Nation Council, led the attendees in prayer.
“PNM generously offered to extend the funding in 2019 with an additional $500,000 for the next five years to provide additional scholarships to even more students,” Dean said.
PNM provided 15 scholarships in the 2022-23 school year, with eight awarded to San Juan College students and 7 awarded to Navajo Technical University students.
Since 2013, PNM has provided 555 scholarships to Native American students at San Juan College.
“These students are enrolled in programs including health sciences, science, math and engineering, information technology, energy,” Dean said. “We are extremely proud of the fact that San Juan College ranks fourth in the nation among community colleges for the number of Native American graduates receiving associate degrees.”
Elmer Guy, Ph.D., and president of Navajo Technical University, expressed his gratitude to PNM, saying NTU students have benefited greatly from the scholarships as they have studied biology, chemistry and other fields.
Guy said that among all tribal colleges and universities, NTU is the only one to provide a full range of four-year engineering degrees, offering industrial, electrical, environmental science and natural resources, mechanical and environmental engineering.
NTU also offers master’s degrees and a Ph.D. program in Navajo culture and language sustainability. NTU is the first of 37 tribal colleges in the United States to offer a doctoral program.
Guy noted that NTU is accredited by Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, which opens up internships opportunities for students at Sandia and Los Alamos labs, Boeing Co., PNM and other major corporations that require ABET accreditation for internship eligibility.
Last year, Sandia National Laboratories hired an electrical engineering student from NTU for the first time, and Honeywell International Inc. recently hired an NTU student as well. Los Alamos National Laboratory invited seven students to intern this summer, Guy said.
Guy said about 85% of NTU students qualify for federal Pell Grants, but that alone does not cover all costs. “With the support provided by PNM and other scholarships, it really helps us to stay on task,” Guy said, adding that scholarships ease worries “about paying bills or buying gas to get to class.”
“For Indian communities, it's really important that we have an educated workforce,” Guy said. He added that when one person is educated, it builds up the entire community. He encouraged students to believe in themselves and know that they are “smart enough” to succeed.
Guy acknowledged Rep. Anthony Allison (D-San Juan County), for his help in acquiring resources for dual credit programs. He said SJC and NTU serve the most dual-credit students in New Mexico.
San Juan College PNM scholarship graduates were: Gilbert Barber Jr., diesel technology; Andriana Begay, instrumentation and controls; Cody Begay, diesel technology; Jerrick Billy, automotive technology; Farnell Charley, instrumentation and controls; Michael Diswood, instrumentation and controls; Cody Paul, instrumentation and controls; and Shareana Wisdom, automotive technology.
NTU PNM scholarship graduates were: Emmanuel Holiday, electrical trades certificate; Chelsie Whitewater, B.S. in biology; Darlene Wilson, B.S. in biology, AAS in environmental science and natural resources; Wynona Wilson BAS in information technology), Benveno Brian Yazzie, BAS in information technology; Sky Autumn Yazzie BAS in information technology; and Trudy Yazzie, culinary arts certificate.
Atcitty estimated that 730 students from both SJC and NTU have benefited from the PNM Scholarship program, with a combined number of 230 who have graduated. In the 2023-24 school year, 65 students and 15 graduates are being aided by the program.
Ron Darnell, senior vice president of public policy for PNM, said that 10 years ago, PNM worked in partnership with Navajo Nation leaders to address needs and create opportunities for students to tap into existing and emerging job markets.
“We listened, we learned, and we also ultimately created a scholarship program to serve students on the Navajo Nation,” Darnell said. PNM has provided $1.5 million in scholarships, according to Darnell.
Darnell advised students to “stay in concert with your Indigenous core values that guide you in advocating, serving and building capacity in your communities.”
“Always work hard and inspire others as you've been inspired, believe in what can be accomplished and to never give up on the idea that there is a better life out there and that challenging work, sweat equity, perseverance, the support of your family and the sacrifices our ancestors, it's paid off.”
President Buu Nygren, who grew up Red Mesa, Arizona, holds a bachelor’s degree in construction management from Arizona State, an MBA and education doctorate from University of Southern California.
Nygren grew up in rural Navajo Nation community where his family did not have access to electricity or running water, Atticity said in his introduction of Nygren.
The Nygren administration’s priorities are clean water access, infrastructure development, allocating resources for the missing and murdered Indigenous relatives movement, construction of new roads, rehabilitation centers and investing in elderly homes, Atticity said.
Nygren, addressing the audience in Diné and English, said he was “very honored and happy to be here, because those are some very intensive hands-on, practical skills that you all have acquired.”
He said those are “skill sets that are very important … that you will continue to use … in trades that actually make things go move forward.”
Nygren said energy has been a high priority for him since taking office in January. “The Navajo Nation has always been an energy nation,” he said.
He expressed gratitude to SJC officials and staff, as well as to Allison and PNM, and challenged PNM to provide “another $500,000 for the scholarship program.”
“Continue to work hard, continue to be ambitious, continue to dream hard … continue to know that you are more than capable,” he told students.
Nygren said regardless of whether a person is in kindergarten or pursuing a master’s or doctorate, the Navajo word “biláhó bíínshghah,” meaning “I’m more than capable,” was the phrase that always inspired him.
Jerrick Billy, who will graduate from SJC with an AAS in automotive technology, addressed the audience and said the PNM scholarship helped him pay for tools and books. He said their donation helped him strive harder and pushed him to get good grades because he didn’t want to let anyone down.
Billy said his goal was to work at a Ford dealership.
“It's been a long life dream of mine to become an automotive technician,” he said. “I can’t thank you enough for helping me to achieve my number one goal in life and that’s graduating from college. All of my hard work and dedication will all pay off in a few days when I get to receive my degree.”
Darlene Wilson, a dual major in biology and environmental science and resources at NTU, was the concluding speaker. She said she is working on a water purification research project called N4WPP.
“I'd like to thank Dr. Guy for really helped me … bringing this project to life. … It's going to happen. It's a miracle!” Wilson said.
Wilson, who completed an internship with NASA and the Department of Defense, said her daughter was also attending NTU at the same time. Her daughter received a bachelor’s in biology and is now at Harvard University for an internship.