Published May 10, 2016
CROWNPOINT, NEW MEXICO – Navajo Technical University (NTU) will confer its first graduate degree on May 13, 2016 when Perry R. James of Continental Divide, NM receives a Master of Arts degree in Diné Culture, Language & Leadership. In total, 211 students from NTU’s three sites in Crownpoint and Chinle and Teec Nos Pos, AZ will be receiving a degree, certificate or GED diploma.
NTU was approved by the Higher Learning Commission to begin offering a graduate degree in the fall of 2013 as it was making the transition into becoming a university. At the time, James was teaching at Borrego Pass Elementary School and wanting to continue his education after graduating from the University of New Mexico – Gallup in 2012. When NTU began offering a master’s degree he contacted Interim Director of Graduate Studies Dr. Wesley K. Thomas, and enrolled in a 400-level course to prepare for the fall semester.
“It started slow,” explained Dr. Thomas, who purposefully designed the program to be an intimate experience that demanded one-on-one attention with first year students. “We had to keep trials and errors at a minimum. At the same time, we were vigilant at not pursuing practicality but quality.”
As the only student enrolled during the first year of the program, James would analyze Western books about Navajo culture and history and deconstruct the core information from a traditional perspective. James would identify differences between each source of knowledge and fill gaps of information often omitted from Western perspective as a result of culture and language barriers.
Comparing first hand knowledge versus Western academic knowledge eventually became the topic of James’s thesis and his research focused on oral history and analysis of traditional teachings from an ethical and moral approach. While James’s methodology confronted both Western and traditional pedagogies, the foundation of his research stemmed from the teachings of his grandparents.
“I always loved learning about culture and history,” exclaimed James, whose clans are Tábąąhá born for Táchii’nii (his paternal grandfather was ’Áshįįhí and his maternal grandfather was Ta’neeszahnii). “It started with my grandparents. From them, the culture was already established in me.”
Moving forward James hopes to utilize his degree to serve as an adjunct faculty member in the Diné Culture, Language & Leadership program and to assist in NTU’s mission of language and cultural revitalization. “When I told my grandparents (about the program), from their perspective it was how I was I going to use (the degree),” stated James. “Are you going to use it for your own gain or teach someone else? That’s why I want to come back and talk about the traditional aspects.”
“My grandparents are not going to be there (for graduation), which for me will be the hardest part,” James continued. “They helped me through the program. I wouldn’t know where to begin, what to defend, what to argue, without them. I’m proud to have finished the degree.”
NTU’s graduation will begin promptly at 9:00 am at the NTU Comprehensive Wellness Center and will require tickets for admission. Navajo Nation Poet Laureate Dr. Laura Tohe will be reciting a poem and NTU Student of the Year Jayvion Chee of Rabbitbrush, NM will be giving the student address. Dr. Lori Arviso Alvord will serve as this year’s commencement speaker.
Dr. Alvord is a Diné surgeon who serves as the Chief of Surgical Services at Banner Page Hospital in Page, AZ. Dr. Alvord attended Crownpoint High School before obtaining degrees from Dartmouth College and Stanford Medical School. In 2013, the National Indian Health Board and the National Congress of American Indians nominated Dr. Alvord for the position of the U.S. Surgeon General. In addition to her work in the medical field, Dr. Alvord is also a renowned author and has sold over 50,000 copies of her best-selling memoir, “The Scalpel and the Silver Bear.”
NTU will be conferring nine baccalaureate degrees on Friday, the most in school history. Myrna Mitchell of Many Farms, AZ will be receiving NTU’s first Bachelor of Arts degree in Diné Culture, Language & Leadership while Ricknell Delgarito of Heart Butte, NM, Curtis R. Largo of Prewitt, NM, and Alexandre J. Perry of Crownpoint will receive Bachelor of Applied Science degrees in Information Technology – Computer Science. NTU will also be issuing Bachelor of Science degrees to Early Childhood Multicultural Education major Lucietta Elmina of White Rock, NM; Industrial Engineering major Jonathan Largo of Casamero Lake, NM; Environmental Science and Natural Resources majors Dwight Carlston of Falcon’s Nes
xt, NM and Filiberto S.A. Vecenti of Lukachukai, AZ, and Electrical Engineering major Gerald R. Henry of Window Rock, AZ, who will be another first graduate with this degree.
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