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Dynamic students earn Udall honors

May 01, 2007

Three dynamic women who share a dream of helping Native American communities have won national Udall Scholarships. They come from different backgrounds and have different majors, but their goals are to develop expertise so they can make a difference in the lives of struggling tribal community members.

Sharon Cini, an American Indian Studies major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, wants to become a health care administrator at the hospital in her grandmother’s hometown, on the Navajo reservation.

Jennifer Jackson, majoring in elementary education in the Fulton College of Education and also in family studies, plans to become a school principal and then a superintendent on the Navajo reservation.

Andrea Garfinkel-Castro, an urban planning major in the College of Design, aims to bring energy conservation and energy management to affordable housing projects, including those in Native American communities.

All are single mothers in their 30s and 40s, with 10 children between them. They share an intense work ethic and a steely determination, as well as a breadth of life experiences that will make them likely to succeed.

About 70 sophomores and juniors are selected to receive the $5,000 awards each year. The awards are given to students who intend to pursue careers in tribal policy, health care and environmental public policy. Twenty ASU students have won Udalls in the past 11 years.

Cini already is involved in Native American health care, having worked as an outreach coordinator and parent educator at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, a substance abuse counselor and a clinician who trains non-Native American foster parents for Native American children. This spring she began working with the board of the Sage Memorial Hospital in Ganado, a struggling institution that needs leadership and is grateful for her help.

Cini, a Navy veteran who is Navajo and Hopi, follows a tradition: her great-grandmother was a medicine woman and her mother was a nurse at Winslow Indian Health Services for 30 years.

“Sharon is a young extraordinary mind who has learned disciplined maturity through her upbringing as well as her service in the Navy,” says Donald Fixico, an ASU history professor. “Her strength is in her identity as a Native person and a woman who has set important goals in her life. She does indeed practice the Navajo concept of ‘Walking in Beauty.’ As a Native scholar, I am very proud of her.”

Michelle Hale, faculty associate in American Indian Studies, says Cini is “a natural leader, an extraordinarily hard worker with tremendous potential that I cannot wait to see developed.”

Jackson, a Navajo who grew up in Tuba City, started volunteering in schools when her children were young, coaching, sponsoring cultural groups, sitting on parent advisory councils and planning community events. Eventually, she developed so much expertise that she was hired as program manager for a tribal social service program and later as a director for a tribal Head Start program. She learned how to collect data and write grants.

In August 2005, she enrolled at ASU, determined to become a policy-maker who could improve the quality of education for Navajos. She wants to develop a culturally relevant curriculum that meets federal standards and to incorporate Navajo language instruction into reservation schools.

“Jennifer has exceptional leadership qualities yet maintains values of the Navajo who are a people devoted to communal life and goals,” says Kathryn Manuelito, assistant professor of education. “She is aware of the contradictions that challenge professional Navajo people as they seek to benefit from both the Navajo world and the Euro-western world. Her approach to life is very positive.”

Garfinkel-Castro is an activist planner for energy conservation in affordable housing, believing that the perception that the poor don’t care about the environment is wrong, as is the idea that energy conservation is too costly. Having grown up in modest means, she learned a lifestyle of conservation through necessity.

She is working as a volunteer on a community redevelopment project in the town of Guadalupe, one that will have energy efficiencies.

“As a late-blooming student, one who has had to work hard and be persistent in her search for an education, Andrea brings to her work a high level of maturity and clarity about her values,” says Hemalata Dandekar, director of the School of Planning. “Her focus on issues of equity and her concerns about displacement of the poor and access to public resources for disadvantaged populations are clear.

“The Udall Scholarship will help her better understand the mechanisms of governmental decision making. She can turn this knowledge to improving the chances of less able groups in our society.”

Another student, Melanie Engstrom, received honorable mention in the Udall competition. Engstrom is a conservation biology junior in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.