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Conference matches students with professionals


May 02, 2008

More than 200 middle-school Native American students from Arizona will attend the Inspiring Voices Conference May 5 at ASU’s Polytechnic campus. The event will provide workshops and activities for the youngsters, as well as numerous opportunities to interact with 21 local Native American professionals from different industry fields.

Students also will get a chance to conduct panel discussions with speakers and have one-on-one interviews with professionals to discuss career interests and educational options. The conference will include a lively performance by Inspiring Voices speaker and well-known reggae musician Casper Lomayesva.

The conference is the result of a pilot program created in 2006 by the Office of Public Affairs’ ASU for Arizona and Americorp VISTA volunteer member Paula Stone.

The program began as a way to bring Native American middle-school children to campus for an opportunity to meet with Native American professionals. The experience was meant to serve as a way to encourage students to stay in school and pursue a college education. In 2006, the program reached 60 students.

Stone joined the ASU for Arizona team in February 2007. Her assignment was to focus on Native American youth outreach and help revamp the existing Inspiring Voices program.

Stone decided the best way to improve the program was to create authentic materials through video interviews.

“I suggested filming the life stories and career paths of local Native American role models in a variety of professional careers, in interview format, using youth as interviewers,” she says. “The films would then be taken to school classrooms four times during the school year by ASU staff, along with a brief related activity to engage the youth and reinforce themes brought out in the interviews.”

According to Stone, participating youths then would be invited to attend a conference at ASU to meet the speakers in person, receive mentoring, participate in career-oriented workshops, observe a speakers’ panel discussion, have lunch and enjoy the campus.

Over the past year, Stone spent her time reaching out to various Native American professionals, community leaders, school districts and ASU staff for help in shaping the new format for Inspiring Voices.

“I recruited 21 adults from the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas to give filmed interviews,” she says. “Many of the role models are from the science and engineering fields, and Club ASU program coordinator Lambert Yazzie was instrumental in securing the participation of these individuals. Other fields represented include education, business, government, public administration, architecture, music, art and telecommunications.”

Stone also recruited six outstanding Native American youths to serve as interviewers. She was aided by ASU student videographer Alex Delgadillo.

Once the interviews were complete, Stone faced the daunting challenge of editing and completing the videos. Stone has been so committed to the project that she learned video editing – with the help of ASU’s Learning Technologies Lab at the Tempe campus and its manager, Gemma Garcia – to complete the project.

“At the same time, I set out to recruit schools to implement Inspiring Voices, and secured seven schools to initiate the program – five reservation schools on the Salt River and Gila River Communities, and two urban schools with high Native American populations in the Tempe public school districts,” Stone says. “I designed activities to complement the films, and implementation began with about 450 participating students in September.”

Stone’s goal is to complete 16 films before her Americorp VISTA extension expires in June (she has completed 14 interviews so far).

According to Stone, the filmed interviews are essential to ensuring the sustainability and continuation of Inspiring Voices in years to come.

For her relentless efforts and ability to foster such a successful outreach program, Stone was awarded the Governor’s Volunteer Service Award in the National Service Category during a special ceremony April 30 at the Phoenix Art Museum.
AmeriCorps VISTA places professionals in organizations and institutions to build capacity and sustainability in anti-poverty initiatives within the United States.