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First look at Grand Canyon inspired ASU grad to study parks, recreation

‘There is a need for more Indigenous representation within the national parks’


Meranden Numkena, spring 2024, Outstanding Graduate, School of Community Resources and Development

Meranden Numkena, spring 2024 Watts College Outstanding Graduate, School of Community Resources and Development. Courtesy photo

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April 22, 2024

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time can have some profound effects on people.

The ensemble cast in the 1991 film “Grand Canyon” looked into the great chasm and realized that some things are literally bigger than their individual lives.

Much more recently, Meranden Numkena’s experience gazing into the canyon, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, inspired her career choice.

“As I stood there in shock of how beautiful this view was, I knew in that moment that this was a place I wanted to find a career in,” said Numkena, the spring 2024 Outstanding Graduate from the School of Community Resources and Development, part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions

“I began to see there is a need for more Indigenous representation within the national parks.”

Numkena, who is is from Tuba City and Moenkopi, Arizona, met a Navajo park ranger named Kelkiyana Yazzie, who became a role model for her as she began to understand the importance of Indigenous people telling their own stories.

“I knew this was something I wanted to dive into,” said Numkena, who is Navajo and Hopi.

Numkena is now graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in parks, recreation and sports management with a special events management certificate.

She said tourism can help teach visitors about Indigenous peoples and maintaining respect for the land and cultural sites.

It’s important for people who aren’t Indigenous to know where tribal lands are and to understand the culture and traditions of the of people who live there, she said, but “there is a balance between cultural integrity and encouraging awareness.”

Numkena said that after graduation she sees herself returning home to help her people, but she is also attracted to continuing in the world of special events. She currently works at the Footprint Center in downtown Phoenix.

Read on to learn more about Numkena’s ASU journey.

Note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: Why did you choose ASU?

Answer: ASU has been in my family for decades. My mom, Lori, Aunt Lyssa and Papa Lorin all attended ASU. At a very young age, my mom told my siblings and I that we were to attend college. She didn’t mind what school or major we studied, as long as we got our bachelor’s degrees. As ASU has been in my family for years, I knew that I wanted to continue the tradition and officially become a Sun Devil myself!

Q: Which professor(s) taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: If there is one thing I loved about my college experience, it is the faculty from the Watts College. (Associate Professor) Eric Legg, (Clinical Assistant Professor) Erin Schneiderman and (Assistant Teaching Professor) Claire McWilliams have made significant impacts on my life, and I am beyond thankful for them. From welcoming me with open arms as a first-year student to finding my passion for events and tourism, I have learned that the networks we build are beneficial. The ongoing support and knowing they are always there to talk is what motivated me to keep going.

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

A: College is not just about the degree. It is about the experiences and growth you make. I started as a very shy, introverted person. With the help of my classes, professors, ASU events, internships, jobs and so much more, I have grown out of that shell and became a better version of myself. ASU has provided so many resources and opportunities outside of the classroom that have prospered my passions.

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

A: I had the opportunity to meet with representatives who were assessing the School of Community Resources and Development to share my experiences as a student in this school. I asked one of them for advice they’d give someone who is in my shoes. She simply stated, “You cannot get fed with your mouth closed.” Ever since, that continues to stay in the back of my mind.

Do not be afraid to go for opportunities that interest you. Ask questions, schedule times to meet with professionals or professors, go to career fairs and more. Even if you are not looking for a job right in that moment, it gives you time to practice and allows you to become more prepared for when it is time. Although it can be intimidating, understand that reaching out and taking on these experiences are there to help you!

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

A: I had the opportunity to work with the Grand Canyon Trust as their Grand Canyon intern last summer. Their mission is: “To safeguard the wonders of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau, while supporting the rights of its Native peoples.” Throughout my time with them, I have been able to see so much from understanding the negative impacts of uranium mining on the Grand Canyon and Havasupai tribe to the designation of Baaj Nwaavjo I’tah Kukveni, Ancestral Footprints of Grand Canyon National Monument, which was signed by President Biden. I would use the $40 million and work alongside the Grand Canyon Trust, Grand Canyon National Park, Native American tribes associated with the Grand Canyon, and any other individuals to continue protecting these sacred lands and the tribes who have been here for centuries.

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