ASU office reflects on 3 decades of success
The bulky, 1970s-era phones stacked in a corner of Edwin Gonzalez-Santin’s office remind him how far he’s come. Back when the phones were new, he taught courses via conference calls to students in Navajo communities from Tempe to New Mexico who would have lost their vital jobs if they’d left their reservations to attend classes on campus.
Now, Gonzalez-Santin pauses from answering several dozen new e-mails in his inbox at ASU’s School of Social Work to reflect on three decades of success with the Office of American Indian Projects, the oldest program of its kind in the nation.
Located in the College of Public Programs at the Downtown Phoenix campus, the office has helped to graduate nearly 300 American Indian students in the past 31 years. That’s likely more than any other native project in the nation, says Gonzalez-Santin, the office’s director.
He and three project members have woven a colorful network of supporters who have influenced thousands of American Indians across Arizona and the Midwest. The Office of American Indian Projects staff includes associate director Tim Perry, School of Social Work faculty member Michael Niles, and administrative secretary Shannon Pete. Gonzalez-Santin is quick to credit much of the team’s success to project support from colleagues within the School of Social Work and across the university.
The office works to identify, recruit and support students who are interested in working with American Indian communities. It also assists tribal governments in developing policies that affect their people.
“I can go to most of the tribes in Arizona and find some of our graduates,” Gonzalez-Santin says. “Many of the regional directors and principal social workers of the Navajo nation are graduates of ASU’s School of Social Work.”
Along with helping to obtain academic grants for students, the office supports American Indian students in finding ways to continue their studies when cultural issues conflict with their class schedules.
For example, “the culture is very family-oriented, so if there’s an illness or a death in the family, students are expected to be on the reservation instantly,” he says. “I work to mediate and reduce cultural misunderstandings that sometimes occur, and this helps to increase the opportunity for American-Indian students to matriculate.”
The office helps tribal governments evaluate programs, and it provides consultation and feedback on proposed funding for programs that help tribal programs, including the Navajo nation. It assists the social service and early childhood working groups of the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona Inc. in promoting Indian self-reliance through public policy development that affects 21 tribes across the state and other indigenous communities in the nation.
“That puts us in a unique position to know how to respond to laws and help the tribes, and helps us recruit students because we’re actively engaged in the American Indian communities,” Gonzalez-Santin says.
The office also is home to the Indigenous Early Intervention Alliance (IEIA) and the Indigenous Early Intervention Alliance-Urban Contexts (IEIA-UC), the brainchild of Niles. The purpose of IEIA and the IEIA-UC is to increase the capacity of indigenous communities in developing early childhood intervention programs that fit their unique culture and ideals in both rural and urban areas.
For information about the Office of American Indian Projects, call (602) 496-0099 or visit the Web site http://ssw.asu.edu/portal/research/oaip2.
The Indigenous Early Intervention Alliance Web site can be found at http://indigenous-early-intervention.com.
Corey Schubert, firstname.lastname@example.org
College of Public Programs