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ASU's second Pueblo Indian doctoral cohort puts community first

May 9, 2018

Indigenous doctoral graduates ready to make a difference after three years of intense study

Most people go to college to enhance their education, bolster their professional status and increase their earning power. But a doctoral cohort from New Mexico got their degrees to enrich their communities and build up their nation.

Meet the Arizona State University Pueblo Indian doctoral program Class of 2018.

“When our tribal leaders came to our orientation to give their blessing and a word of encouragement, they told us that we were about to embark on a spiritual journey,” said Doreen Bird, who received a doctorate from ASU’s School of Transformation this week after three years of hard work, research and sacrifice. “We realized at that point it wasn’t about us anymore. It’s about our communities.”

Bird is one of six people in the cohort, which saw its second class graduate on May 7.

Weeks before, Bird wore traditional Pueblo attire to her dissertation where she faced a roomful of Native American scholars.

“They were tough and challenged us every step of the way,” said Bird, who quit her job to finish her dissertation on Pueblo research methodologies. “I’m relieved it’s over but excited for the new journey that awaits all of us.”

Native American group photo

Pueblo cohort members Christina Castro, Porter Swentzell, Amanda Montoya (front), Peggy Bird (front), Rachell Tenorio and Doreen Bird pose for a portrait following the defense of their dissertations on ASU's Tempe campus on Thursday, April 12, 2018. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The program was launched in 2012 as a partnership with New Mexico Pueblos to find solutions to complex issues facing their communities. The hope was for the graduates to be able to establish research agendas, engage in policymaking and enact strategies to address these challenges.

Built with the Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School, which is under the leadership of the 19 Pueblos of New Mexico, the program facilitates the training of practitioner-researcher-scholars within Pueblo communities.

The members of the cohort conducted their studies in New Mexico, creating a unique set of logistical opportunities. Coursework was conducted primarily through in-person courses with ASU-based faculty and focusing on issues of Pueblo peoples. These included Native health, education, families and communities. Their coursework also included international indigenous-community visits and concentrated training in indigenous research methodology and methods.

The program is led by School of Social Transformation faculty members Elizabeth Sumida Huaman, associate professor of indigenous education and a senior researcher with the Leadership Institute, and Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, President’s Professor, director of the Center of Indian Education and ASU’s special adviser to the president on American Indian Affairs.

“This program is a testament to what awesome results can be achieved from real collaboration with indigenous communities, which involves trust, creativity, and hard work,” Huaman said. “All of us who put this program together — the generations who produced the students, and the students themselves — exemplify this … this graduating cohort is the realization of our collective best hopes. They are intensely strong, intellectually and as researchers, and they are among the best people I know.”

Brayboy said Pueblos receiving their degrees is a monumental achievement; only one out of every 5,000 Native Americans and indigenous peoples in the U.S. who reach the ninth grade will go on to obtain a doctorate. He believes the achievement will help cohort members strengthen their pueblosThe term pueblo can also be used to describe the community, in addition to the people..

“I love this program, because it allows us to enact ASU’s vision that we work with tribal nations to create futures of their own making,” Brayboy said. “This process is exactly what self-determination looks like: tribal peoples doing work for their tribal communities. It’s an honor to be a part of the work.”

Amanda Montoya is a Taos Pueblo community planner and defended her thesis in April. Her work is focused on why educated people end up leaving their pueblos, otherwise known as “brain drain.”

“They might leave for a time but they always come back for cultural connections,” Montoya said. “I’ve discovered it’s not just a problem with pueblos but rural communities.”

Montoya said she experienced a brain drain of another kind in obtaining her degree.

“It was a huge sacrifice,” Montoya said. “The day I finished my dissertation, I took a deep breath and said, ‘I can be part of the world again!’”

The program was also a struggle for Christina Castro, whose grandfather Benjamin died on Feb. 6.

“I wasn’t sure I was going to make it. I was going to give up but then I thought, ‘My grandfather wouldn’t have wanted that for me,’” she said. “He was so proud that I was going to be the first doctorate in the family. I was coping with that loss, then gained strength from that loss.”

Peggy Bird, who is a pro tem judge in the Nambe and Taos pueblos, presented a powerful dissertation on Pueblo women’s voices, knowledge and resilience in the face of colonization, which she says still exists.

“We’re still dealing with colonization and different policies that are being imposed upon us,” said Bird. “But if you think about our survival, it’s amazing we’re still here … and we’re going to continue to be here.”

Porter Swentzell, a faculty member at the Institute of American Indian Arts, said there were moments of levity in those three intense years of study.

“One of the special things about this cohort is the humor we share,” said Swentzell, whose dissertation was on place-based education and sovereignty. “We have our own inside jokes. We spent a lot of time laughing, joking around, having a good time. All of that laughter is valuable in getting us to this point.”

June L. Lorenzo, a member of the 2015 cohort, attended last month’s dissertation defenses and was relieved to be an observer and not a presenter.

“It’s interesting to see how the energy of the first cohort has continued,” Lorenzo said. “I’m extremely proud of everyone.”

The cohort capped off the program with a visit to Canada in March for an academic exchange with indigenous health scholars at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. While there, the cohort competed in an Indigenous 3-Minute Thesis competition held at the University of Winnipeg where cohort members Rachell Tenorio and Doreen Bird took first and third place, respectively.

In addition to Swentzell, Montoya, Castro, Tenorio, and Doreen and Peggy Bird, there are five other Pueblo cohort members on a separate track set for graduation in the 2018–19 academic year.

The Pueblo Indian doctorate cohort receives support from The Leadership Institute at the Santa Fe Indian School, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and ASU’s School of Social Transformation in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

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ASU was the perfect fit for future diplomat

ASU, Barrett a perfect fit for outstanding graduate who loves community service.
May 9, 2018

Outstanding grad Victoria Crynes embraced travel, community service

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

For Victoria Crynes, it’s all about the perfect fit. She knew Arizona State University could offer what no other university could, and she was right.

Crynes, who knew about ASU because her brother graduated from the university in 2012, is graduating with a degree in global politics in business from the W. P. Carey School of Business, where she is the outstanding graduate. She’s also in Barrett, The Honors College.

“When I was touring other universities, they talked about their honors programs and it was not nearly the same as Barrett,” said Crynes, who is from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“I knew I wanted to do international law, and Barrett has Project Excellence, where you can take law courses. I wanted to do a mix of business and international and the global politics program was perfect for that.”

Crynes also wanted to do a lot of community service. During her college career, she was named a Pat Tillman Scholar, Gammage Scholar and McCord Scholar.

“As a Pat Tillman Scholar, you have the option of doing a venture project and I had already been thinking about what I wanted to do,” she said.

“Growing up, my mom worked with minority students, helping them get into college, so I had a lot of knowledge of how I could help,” said Crynes, who worked with students at Phoenix Collegiate Academy, a charter school in Phoenix.

“I thought it would be fun to combine a prom dress and suit (donation) drive with an educational component of preparing for college. That way the students are earning this fun prize at the end of working hard.”

She was able to collect more than 140 dresses and suits, plus accessories — enough for the entire junior and senior class.

“I told the students that they can get to college, but it’s a lot of work. And for the Hispanic students, there are a lot of resources to help.”

Crynes also helped to organize a “prom” for residents of the Veterans Administration home in Phoenix during her sophomore year, with a swing band, corsages and a photo booth.

“Just seeing their eyes brighten was one of the best feelings. I’m huge supporter of the military and I know how much they’ve given. So being able to show that the community cares was important to me.”

Victoria Crynes traveled to Scotland in a Fulbright immersion program just after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.

Crynes wants to be a diplomat, so travel was a crucial part of her time at ASU. As a sophomore, she spent a five-week Fulbright immersion in Scotland just after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.

“It was the perfect time to be there and experience a country reacting in the face of massive transition that they hadn’t supported but were being dragged along on,” she said.

Days after her return, she left for a semester in the Czech Republic.

“I experienced things I hadn’t expected. I’m an American, I believe in democracy. And I met people who supported communism. To me that was mind-blowing,” she said.

“They had been poor their whole lives and when communism came it was relief and they felt like they had food and their lives improved,” she said. At the same time, one of her professors there grew up protesting communism.

“It really changed my perspective.”

Crynes said she saw kindness in action during a trip to Taiwan, where a man befriended her group of American college students, teaching them tai chi and taking them camping.

“Someone willing to take that much time is not something you find on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “It inspired me to create that sense of home for people who are here. I recently met a Czech student and I’ve been dragging him along to everything. It’s because so many people have taken care of me.”

She credits staff and faculty at ASU with helping her along the way.

“I think one of the amazing things is the staff meets you where you are and helps you meet your goals and then they help you go further.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: Growing up, my family hosted students, athletes and business professionals from around the world. I was captivated by culture and travel. However, it wasn’t until high school that I defined my role in the international sphere. “The Infidel” was the book that opened my eyes to a personalized story of hardships occurring internationally. It was through this book that I knew I wanted to become a global changemaker. Interestingly enough, I was reading this book during my first visit to ASU.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or that changed your perspective?

A: During my time at ASU two things surprised me.

1. The power of mentorship and the willingness of individuals to mentor. Time after time I have met phenomenal professors and alumni each willing to provide mentorship. I think often the person we most want to be mentored by is someone we look up to and in turn is incredibly intimidating to approach. Yet, each time I’ve overcome my timidity I have been rewarded with incredible mentorship.

2. During my four years I was able to study internationally on three occasions. It was through these travels that I realized the disconnect between local citizen voices and government. In Scotland it was a glaring chasm created through Brexit. In Czech Republic generational differences and a desire to preserve culture were dominant themes. In Taiwan aborigines were working to regain recognition and support from the government. Here in the U.S. we face countless problems, and we, like the nations I experienced, must step up to vote, to pass out pamphlets, to run for office, and ultimately to change the future that we will pass to the next generation. Because what resolves the disconnect between government and people, is people.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU for Barrett and W. P. Carey. I knew that these colleges prioritize a personalized and intimate college experience. Barrett offered the Office of National Scholarship Advisement and my college goals included getting a Fulbright. I knew that they were qualified and willing to help me reach that goal. Through the Project Excellence Program I was ecstatic at the future of pursuing law courses as an undergraduate student. I have a goal of becoming an international lawyer and sitting in law classes of a top 20 law school, I was confident would better prepare me for that future. In W. P. Carey I knew that the quality of education was phenomenal, the staff supportive, and that I wanted to become a member of the Tillman Action Through Leadership Scholars Program. On top of this, ASU recognizes National Hispanic Scholars and provides scholarships from the business school, ASU and Barrett.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: As soon as you can get out there and do it!

Don’t wait to get involved and don’t get involved trying to fit that “successful student starter pack.” The best way to be successful is by taking initiative to do what you are passionate about. For me that meant starting my own outreach project and a new on-campus organization. If you don’t find the perfect fit, create a space to pursue your passion whether it is volunteering, research, or a professional venture!

Secondly, study abroad is an amazing opportunity and there are an abundance of scholarship opportunities. Study abroad widens your perspective and places you in situations that can be uncomfortable or unknown. Further, it helps you understand the importance of befriending international students at ASU.

Go beyond your comfort zone!

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: My favorite spot on campus is the staircase by Galvin Playhouse. It is perfect for quiet, outdoor tai chi. I love the shade, the awesome architecture, and not many students go there. I also just discovered the art museum downstairs! Other than that, I would have to say the very cliché ASU fountain. I love cutting through the Old Main courtyard for my early morning class and getting a quiet view of the fountain. Lastly, and most importantly, the offices of David Stuempfle, John Eaton, and Michelle Hollin. They have created a home for sharing my victories, my defeats, and inspiring me to push onward.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: During the summer I will attend the Hansen Summer Institute on International Leadership and Cooperation with students from 20 countries. In the fall I will attend the University of Cambridge to pursue a master’s degree in international relations and politics. For fun, I will be repurposing old furniture and crafts.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would create a foundation for transitional homes for youth phasing out of foster homes due to their age, Foster to Freedom. The foundation would help with college and career readiness while providing a home and community for the young adults.

Top photo: Victoria Crynes is an outstanding graduate from the W. P. Carey School of Business. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News